There are far too many uninspired leaders doing uninspired work and saying uninspired things.
If you lead a team of people, you have the responsibility to keep your flame burning bright and hot. Yes, you can still do your job for a while without inspiration, but eventually your team will catch on to the fact that you’re not really smoking what you’re selling, and they’ll start to wonder whether their sacrifices are really worth it.
And make no mistake – your team is making sacrifices. They are spending their precious time, energy, and attention following your leadership, and if they begin to sense that your heart isn’t really in it, they’ll begin to meter their own engagement.
So, how do you keep yourself inspired as a leader? Here are a few ways that you can prove yourself to be a leader worth following.
Commune With Great Minds
How much time do you spend each week reading, absorbing inspiring stimuli, and engaging in conversations that spark your imagination? As Steven Sample, former president of the University of Southern California put it, we need to make it a practice to “commune with great minds.” We must absorb the insights and doubts of great leaders and thinkers in our industry (and beyond), and allow them to shape our own understanding of our role and responsibility to the team.
Do you make it a regular practice to read and study, then to consider how what you’ve read applies to your daily work?
Do you funnel inspiring ideas, articles, videos, and more to your team to show them what’s inspiring you, and to stoke the flame of their inspiration?
Do you engage in conversations with others who challenge you, push you to think in new ways, and share what’s inspiring their own work?
All of these practices take intentional time and effort. They don’t just “happen”.
Ensure that there is time on your calendar each week for filling your mind with the inspiring ideas of others.
Connect With The Deeper Stream
You’ve heard a million times by now about the importance of why. You must know your why. Your why should drive everything. Without a why the what doesn’t matter. Etc.
But what does that mean?
It’s not enough to simply adopt some why from your organization and make it your own. That’s not a reliable source of inspiration. There has to be something deeper that drives you, something more fundamental to who you are as a leader and as a human being.
When do you come alive?
Where do you draw battle lines in your life and work, and say “over my dead body will you cross this line?”
What matters so much to you that you’re willing to suffer, if necessary, in order to see it accomplished?
Here is a core truth of leadership: if you are not inspired, you cannot inspire.
This is the core of your “productive passion”, and it’s much more important than any lofty organizational “why”. Your team will resonate much deeper and in a more primal way when you put this productive passion on display in meetings. When they see that you truly have skin in the game, they will trust you enough to take risks.
Spend some time this week considering your core productive passion and how it animates your work.
Be A Human Being In The World
You are not a machine. You are a rhythmic being, with all of the highs, lows, joys, doubts, and hopes that come with it. If your team never sees these cycles, and you’re hiding who you are from them, then it will be difficult for them to trust you. Worse, if you don’t allow yourself to connect on a personal level with the people on your team, then it will be difficult for you to have the context necessary to stay inspired as a leader.
When was the last time you had a genuine human experience with your team? When was the last time you had a conversation about the things that are inspiring you, giving your pause, or otherwise challenging your perspective?
Are you trying to be something akin to what you think a leader should be, or are you genuinely bringing yourself to your team?
If you try to posture as something you’re not, it will begin to erode your own sense of inspiration. You will be like a child wearing their parents’ clothes. This is playing at leadership.
By connecting personally with your team, and allowing them to see your thinking, your morphing thoughts and ideas, and your emotions, you are providing them with a leader worth following, and you’re also preventing yourself from becoming the form of a leader with no substance.
However, to do this, you must first connect with those deeper themes. Spend time journaling, engaging in contemplation or meditation, or just taking a long walk several times per week. Give yourself the space you need to be able to connect dots and intuit the themes in your life and work.
Here is a core truth of leadership: if you are not inspired, you cannot inspire. Take time each week to inspire yourself and to connect with the deeper stream of your motivation. Remember that great leaders have great rituals.