How to Be an Inspirational Leader

Inspirational Leader March 20, 2019 By: Paul G. Schempp

Inspiring others is an essential leadership skill. Here’s how association execs can tap into inspiration to ignite, motivate, and propel others forward.

Association leaders must master the skill of inspiring others if they want to move staff and members to action—not only furthering the mission of their organization but also promoting the professional well-being of others.

Inspirational leaders also foster high degrees of follower confidence, intrinsic motivation, trust, and admiration. Moreover, research consistently finds that inspirational leadership is correlated to extraordinary levels of performance by individuals, groups, and organizations.

So, how do great leaders get people to do great things? And how can you, as an association executive, inspire others to transcend their normal abilities and accomplish great deeds? It requires three factors.

Inspirational leaders begin by clearly communicating a vision. A well-articulated vision is purpose-driven and increases the confidence and competence of group members in achieving a goal. An inspiring vision combines an emotional plea with knowledge for action. It must be steeped in strong and commonly held values that cause people to become invigorated with the mission of the vision. An inspiring association vision conveys meaningful purpose by serving the shared interests of members, as well as the goals of a greater good. 

Consequently, the vision is clear in leading to a future with specific outcomes and processes that will benefit members as well as outside stakeholders. Take Starbucks as an example. Its vision statement, influenced by former CEO Howard Schultz, exemplifies certain characteristics: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

Inspirational leaders show others the way, while fueling the desire for them to join in the pursuit of a collective good.

Inspirational leaders illuminate a purposeful path. Inspirational leaders show others the way, while fueling the desire for them to join in the pursuit of a collective good. Inspirational association executives guide employees, volunteers, and members in what they need to do—and communicate clearly why they need to do it. They also model and foster the attitudes and actions necessary for achieving shared goals and a common purpose.

Consider revered UCLA Head Basketball Coach John Wooden. He said, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” Note that he never mentions the word basketball or winning. Instead, his vision was the foundation of a purposeful path that made him one of the most successful coaches in college basketball history. 

Inspirational leaders stir emotions and energize people to action. Emotions amplify a desire to succeed, deepen commitments, and strengthen loyalty to the vision of a leader. We become inspired to do something—make a change, accomplish a task, sacrifice, or perform at a higher level. Emotions ignited by inspirational leadership are firmly tied to the sense of purpose embedded in the vision. Stirring emotions and energizing actions happen when a leader connects with the members’ backgrounds, targets things they hold dear individually and collectively, and appeals to aspirations for a gratifying future. In other words, we will overcome the challenges of our past and move to a better and brighter future if we undertake this path as one. President John F. Kennedy skillfully applied this principle in his inaugural address when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

By communicating a value-laden vision, specifying a path to success, and energizing others to collective action, inspirational leaders reinforce the shared goals of the team, express confidence in group members to accomplish these goals, and empower members to achieve well beyond the standard. Association leaders who leave the greatest legacies are those who serve as inspiration for others. It is a skill that not only needs to be in every leader’s toolbox, but one that is mastered and used often.

Paul G. Schempp

Paul G. Schempp is a professor at the University of Georgia College of Education and founder of Performance Matters, Inc., in Athens, Georgia.