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Chief executives are adept at ensuring that a corporation produces tangible things remarkably well. They are less adept at producing inspired people. Bosses control things, but they cannot "control" people into the commitment necessary to accept the risks of (for example) battle or any other significant social enterprise. This is in direct contrast to inner leaders whose purpose is to inspire volunteer followers to common action whether or not the leader is present to oversee behavior. These leaders are inspirational. They enliven and animate others and impel their people to act without thinking. They override sterile fact and put words to people's dreams and hopes. Inspiration gives our dreams purpose and direction (Lombardi, 2000). It articulates the felt needs, values, and visions of the work community and its individual members. It is fundamentally a power—empowering—activity.

Inspiration is a particular relationship between an individual leader and one or more others that enlivens both and provides them with new insight, new emotions, and new directions (Bilchik, 2001). Inspiration is not so much a quality in the leader (the inspirer) as it is a function of the needs of the inspired that the inner leader reflects and responds to. Inner leaders find useful insights, therefore, as they learn first something of the nature of followership. Several aspects of inspiration can be identified to help the inner leader operationalize this technique in his or her day-to-day work. Among them are the following. Inspiration

  1. connects ideas to action.

  2. is a highly emotional and personal experience.

  3. promotes the development of people's talents.

  4. enables others to feel and act as leaders.

  5. helps people recognize the contributions of others.

  6. stimulates others' thinking.

  7. builds enthusiasm about projects and assignments.

  8. is facilitated by the use of symbols.

  9. appeals to collective work community history.

  10. addresses people's psychological and emotional needs.

  11. articulates people's dreams.

  12. creates consensus.

Key Ideas in Inspiration

Developing the skills to inspire others is a matter of the leader's overall leadership philosophy. Inner leaders cannot compel compliance from their stakeholders because all followers are essentially volunteers. How they inspire followers to follow them is a critical technique inner leaders need to master. Inspiring others involves several tasks, the dimensions of which constitute the technique of inspirational leadership. Some of these techniques follow (Plas, 1996; Tesolin, 2000; Fairholm, 2001).

Provide a Sense of Purpose

Inspiration is activating the felt needs, values, and aspirations of the work community (Bilchik, 2001). The mechanism for inspiring a shared sense of purpose often is a common vision of what the work community is and can become. An inspiring vision includes three key elements:

  1. Purpose: the fundamental set of reasons for the work community's existence.

  2. Mission: an achievable focal point and goal aligning subgroup effort with the full work community.

  3. Focus on the future: creating the future by doing or acting in the present with that future in mind.

A vision by its very nature implies a creative tension and a sense of anticipation—both essential aspects of any inspirational idea, situation, or individual persona. Inspirational leaders focus their stakeholders on the present, as well as what must happen to arrive at the desired future. Inspiration comes as inner leaders help followers see the vision as real for them today, while not yet having arrived at that future state of being (Ramsey, 1994).

Articulating Common Needs

The connection between the inner leader's vision and the personal psychological needs of followers is the essence of inspiration. Leaders are inspiring precisely because what they say impels another person to do something the leader wants and that also helps satisfy that person's personal needs. As inner leaders learn and then appropriately respond to their followers' needs, they trigger constructive psychological responses in members that facilitate commitment to the work community's tasks.

Many needs are present in any work community. Some needs are for affiliation. Others are for achievement or to exert power in relationships. All can be met through work-community involvement. Inner leaders find ways to help their followers understand these needs—and other needs—and help them develop expectations and find ways to assuage them through working in the work community.

Stopping Doubt

Inspiration appeals to the emotions of followers and causes them to come together in the common enterprise ("The Greatest Motivators of the Century," 1999). Inspirational messages are a way for the believer to have communion with other believers (Tesolin, 2000) and impel them toward excellence. They bring with them a feeling of rightness, correctness about what they do. They stop any feelings of doubt a follower may have about doing assigned work or holding suitable attitudes and values.

Articulating Follower Dreams

Inspiration consists of a confirmation in the hearts of followers that the common vision is true (Roberts, 1907). Inner leaders are inspiring when they take other persons beyond routine ways of thinking and behaving and lead them to higher level of interaction and focus (Fairholm, 1991, 2000a) consistent with their sense of spiritual integrity.

Helping Followers Act without Thinking

Inspirational messages are often found in the communications leaders make to followers. An obvious such message is the inner leader's vision statement. As followers accept the vision's goals, values, and ideals, this decision lets them act automatically in terms of it. They don't have to think through or rationalize each new situation any more. The vision clarifies the situation and dictates a course of action. An accepted inspiring message puts adherents in a kind of auto-pilot that makes future actions known, good, and simple. A vision states and dramatizes the purposes of the leader and reflects the system of beliefs that give the leader–follower relationship texture and coherence. Inspirational messages use distinctive language (Braham, 1999) to define roles, activities, challenges, and purposes. They are seldom, if ever, couched in explicit terms. Rather, they create patterns of meanings and consciousness reflected in the leader's relationship with followers. These messages raise the consciousness level of the stakeholder work community. They are a potent mechanism for directing and influencing others.

Using Symbols and Ideology

Leaders are symbol users. Bennis (1982) says that leadership becomes effective when individuals place symbolic value on the leader's expressed intentions. To inspire followers, the leader must appeal to them on a different level than mere physical drives. This appeal is often conveyed via symbols standing for the shared values and vision of the work community developed over time ("The Greatest Motivators," 1999).

Using Intuitive Faculties

Inspiration and intuition are connected in real ways. Intuition defines a way to receive knowledge and information without conscious, rational thought (Rowan, 1986). In using inspiration, inner leaders tap their own and the intuitive capacities of work community members. Inspiration is the almost intuitive appeal to innate follower values that inspires them to accept the leader and his or her vision and that gives the leader moral legitimacy (Tesolin, 2000). Tesolin says fostering intuition goes beyond intelligence. It lies in the ability of inner leaders to use their intuitive sense, which is closely aligned with common sense. Intelligence involves a wide range of people skills, including communication and creativity. On the other hand, intuition entails a deep level of self-knowledge and listening, irrespective of reality or social and cultural conditioning. Through intuition we learn what is right, how to live and work with integrity, and how to express our truest selves.

Using Emotional Appeal

Inspiration goes beyond facts by giving them an emotional connection to the leader, the work community, and the task.

Enlightening Followers

Both leaders and led share responsibility for communicating clearly (Townsend and Gebhardt, 1990) the joint activity. In inspiring followers, inner leaders make sure that followers know details both of the job and of their personal preferences. Inspiring leaders transfer understanding to their followers by example and by giving personal attention to each follower to make certain he or she knows his or her part in the overall work plan.

Serving Others

Hard work by itself is not as important any more (perhaps it never was) as is making a positive impact on results. Success is increasingly defined today as giving the customers and all stakeholders particular service, rather than producing a standard product at continuously lowered unit cost and forcing them to take it. Inspiring inner leaders reinvent their work communities (Naisbitt and Aburdene, 1985) and their workers and systems to make them service oriented. This service focus itself is inspiring and is the basis for much workplace inspiration.

Maintaining Open Communications

To be inspiring, inner leaders also must be able to clearly communicate with a growingly diverse group of stakeholders, each of whom desires unique services and attention. When information is not forthcoming, conscientious followers seek it out. Just as inner leaders need to keep their bosses informed, they need to communicate broadly with their followers useful information about both the internal and external job situation. Similarly, followers must keep their leader informed about details of their piece of the work. Often followers are better informed about issues such as the team's current capabilities for meeting customer demands than the inner leader (Townsend and Gebhardt, 1990). Effective leaders need such information, and good inner leaders have learned to ask for it if it is not offered. Effective inner leaders take steps to ensure that needed communications flow in all possible directions at all times. Ensuring this flow is a prime task.

Building Culture

Inspiration is more a function of the readiness of the work community member than of the leader. Creating a culture characterized by multiple layers of shared values is, therefore, essential. The culture is the physical and psychological place where the leader inspires followers. It defines the climate and conditions within which the leaders personal needs and particular personal needs of the core of followers can be juxtaposed in ways that let each satisfy the other. The culture provides a broad basis of consensus around core values, the vision guiding work community, and individual actions and the ways members can and should interact with one another. A central task inner leaders accept is to create the conditions in the work community surroundings that ease the task of inspiring followers to accept and act upon their (the leader's) vision, values, and strategic plans.

Building Individual Loyalty and Commitment

Loyalty, like other personal, intimate feelings, is caused by a myriad factors. Among the obvious contributing factors to developing or to reducing loyalty include changing social values respecting work. If workers are unwilling to prioritize work higher than other personal or family issues or they practice lifestyles that emphasize values other than work uses of their time, their loyalty quotient falls. The emergence of a highly independent society is also a critical factor in determining group and individual loyalty. Morale factors such as job eliminations, restructuring, downsizing, and mergers likewise impact the loyalty quotient, often negatively. Leader indifference, breaking of commitments, arbitrary actions, lack of opportunity to earn promotions or grow on the job, and poor supervision are also conditioning factors. Loyalty suffers when their leaders show favoritism, are discriminatory, fail to recognize outstanding follower performance, or are authoritarian. Factors like low pay, unfair salary programs, and seniority-based raises, of course, also affect loyalty or disloyalty.

Fostering Trust

Experience and observation suggest that inspiration is delimited by the nature and extent of member trust. Unfortunately, none of the traditional theories of culture and trust clearly defines trust as an essential element in the cultural surround. (One exception is Fairholm, 1994.) Yet trust is central in understanding the pull of culture on individual member actions. The culture created allows members to behave with varying levels of trust that certain actions or events will produce expected results. This kind of trust culture is a component of inspiration. One culture may allow for more trust than another, but without the constraints on member behavior to trust each other imposed by cultural features neither leaders nor any member could exercise inspiration at all.

Setting Values

Understanding the techniques of inspiration in leadership in today's world requires examination of shared values. Leadership, at its heart, is a value-laden activity. People may need to be ordered and directed, but they must be inspired also. Creating and promulgating a unique set of values that support the inner leader's agenda is, therefore, a major task underlying his or her success in inspiring follower to desired action (Crosby, 1996). Leadership models that forgo values because values contaminate the objective process fail to understand the true function of leadership.

Foster Change

Inspirational leaders inspire stakeholders to accept, even seek, change (Lombardi, 2000). They do this as they engage in actions to replace traditional controls and substitute an inspired vision, leading by example and being involved, visible leaders. An inspired vision is one that challenges, excites, one that captures followers' hearts and spirit, as well as their minds (Bolman and Deal, 1995).


The inspirational actions or words of the inner leader are inspiring precisely because they clarify and animate what followers already know in their hearts. The reason we describe the leader's vision as a vision is that leaders put into words the hopes and dreams of followers that are already in their hearts ( Conger, 1994). If the inner leader's vision does not persuasively articulate the latent dreams shared by all or most followers, the leader's vision cannot be compelling. Visions become inspiring because of this and because leaders have somehow touched powerful values, emotions, and desires shared by members of the work community. Leaders interpret the community vision in unique ways consistent with both the group's tasks and its history. As they do this, if the leader's vision appeals to follower needs, the vision statement becomes inspirational.

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