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  • Hope is a Ranger Word (and we need it now more than ever)

    Fear will always be part of our landscape, as risk and uncertainty are unavoidable. But when we apply inspirational leadership – and the hope and trust that are central to it – against the constant of fear, we get courage


How to be an Inspirational Leader

There are many components of inspirational leadership: a worthy mission, shared values, and so on. But at its heart is a leader who values people. A leader who elevates the needs of people above the needs of the organization, who creates space for co-creation of strategies, and who prioritizes people’s developmental goals above the demands of the task at hand. A leader who sees the best in people and also enables them to see it in themselves as well. 

When you trust and believe in people more than in your goals, standards, or ideas, people may surprise you with just what they can do. In contrast, when you flip the priority and focus primarily on what you want accomplished, tasks may get done, but your people will most likely never try to go beyond them. You end up getting what you expect. 

We usually understand “inspiration,” as opposed to “motivation,” in terms of intrinsic versus extrinsic drives. To be motivated is to be compelled by external forces, such as coercion (“do this or else”) or money (“do this and you will get a bonus”). Inspiration, by contrast, is driven by forces from the inside, such as your values or purpose. While this is a valid distinction, there is another crucial one: inspiration is always a positive force, whereas motivation can be a negative one. “Positive” does not mean “complimentary.” To inspire someone does not mean only giving compliments. It does mean that the feedback you give, positive or negative, must affirm a person’s potential. It must be oriented towards the future. 

There will be resistance, of course, as we work toward leading and living in this way. As we try to re-orient our institutions to become more human-centered, we will encounter plenty of fear and inertia. How do we inspire people to overcome fear and take action? It almost goes without saying, but hope is fundamental. If there is no belief that the desired outcome is possible, there will be no action. There will always be an excuse: “This is too much for us to do,” or “Why take that risk?” 

Once we decide that we want to be inspirational instead of motivational leaders, the next question is, “How can I become one”? The answer is not as daunting as the quest appears. After years of thought and observation, we have developed a simple diagram to explain inspirational leadership.

At the end of the day, the goal of leadership is action. Leaders want those they lead to do something – think, act, behave, etc. There is always something, however, that wants to stifle action, and if we really think about it, that something is fear. 

Fear is a constant. It is always there, in our private lives and in our professional lives. If you think about the times when something stopped you from doing something or even made you hesitate, we bet that it was fear. We know that fear has to be overcome by courage. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to act in the face of fear. So simply put, leaders need to create courage. It is difficult to motivate real courage, but you can inspire it in your people. In order to inspire courage, you need to create hope and trust in your people. Hope that what needs to be done is worth doing, and trust that they can do it and that you have their backs.

Sometimes leaders try to inspire hope by focusing on situational factors: “The situation is less difficult than you might think,” or, “The payoff is so huge that we must try.” But there is another crucial and important way to inspire hope: trust. 

People must have a basic trust in their leaders and organizations in order to buy into their vision: Are they telling the truth? Will they look out for us when things get hard? But trust must also be extended the other way: People have to feel trusted by their leaders and organizations. They have to feel valued. 

Fear will always be part of our landscape, as risk and uncertainty are unavoidable. But when we apply inspirational leadership – and the hope and trust that are central to it – against the constant of fear, we get courage. The courage to experiment beyond traditional wisdom, to defy judgments of success or failure, and to do more than you are “allowed to do.” The courage to be more than who we thought we were. The ultimate goal of inspirational leadership is for others to take action—to think, to push the envelope—instead of stagnate. 

Aung San Suu Kyi, a prominent democracy activist, political prisoner, and Burmese politician, once wrote, “A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity.”[1]

[1] Aung San Suu Kyi, “Freedom from Fear” (1990).  

J.C. Glick, LTC, U.S. Army (Ret.), Director, Leadership Resiliency with 360 DEVELOPMENT™ part of Destination Athlete®