What are the key traits of inspirational leaders?

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to being an inspirational leader, there are a few key traits that tend to apply across all those considered inspirational, and perhaps unsurprisingly these traits have nothing to do with background, education, intelligence or wealth.

The traits that make someone an inspirational leader are far more powerful.

1. They are authentic

Authenticity is absolutely key for inspirational leaders, as this is the foundation of respect. Even those who don’t necessarily agree with your message will tend to show respect if they recognise that your message is driven by values and in complete alignment with what you stand for.

The leaders that fail to inspire or garner respect are those that continually change their message to abide by the whims of their followers. However, while achieving authenticity as a leader is one of the most vital elements, it also require several other skills and traits within this list in order to do so.

2. They are passionate

It is far easier to be your authentic self, and inspire others around you, if you are aiming to do so in an area you are truly passionate about. Trying to inspire others without feeling genuine passion for an issue yourself is possible, but far harder.

If, however, you first identify your area of passion, and then proceed to lead others in that domain, becoming an inspirational leader will happen almost automatically. Your own passion, if strong enough, will galvanise passion in others, and this is where inspiration will blossom.

3. They are knowledgeable

While it’s not expected that you have to know everything to be an inspiration to others, you do need a degree of knowledge on your area of interest in order to demonstrate credibility.

Without this, people will not be able to trust what you say is true, and trust is another key component of inspiring others.

4. They engage people

Engagement as an inspirational leader isn’t only about being engaged with your area of expertise or your particular passion, but also being engaged with those you lead.

This means taking the time to listen to the views of others, spend time to understand their concerns, and engaging with them on a personal level.

5. They are personable

The most inspirational people tend to be the ones we connect with on a personal level; sharing similar values and passions with those you lead is essential, but if you then combine this with an unpleasant approach to interacting with others, this will weaken your influence considerably.

Developing a strong rapport with others, alongside viewing and treating them as important and valuable human beings, is hugely important in becoming an inspiring leader.

6. They have self-awareness

Highly successful inspirational leaders are not only conscious of what their followers value, but are dedicated to developing their own self-awareness.

Understanding who you are, what motivates and inspires you, and having a clear set of underlying values that will guide you; and then living according to these, is the epitome of being an inspirational leader, and that can only come through self-awareness.

7. They are resilient

Being a leader is not an easy task. Some people will defy you or dislike you; plans will go awry, and things will get challenging. The key to being a great leader is to learn to overcome these challenges, but the secret to being an inspirational leader is to also learn and grow from them, and use your experiences to inform and support others in their journey.

Resilience is therefore a key skill to cultivate and develop as a leader.

We Can All Be Inspirational Leaders

As the list above shows, there is nothing inherently different about inspirational leaders; they’ve simply developed some valuable skills that help them connect with and inspire others. These are skills we can all develop, and may already have within us – so whether you think you currently are an inspirational leader, everyone has the potential to be.

Article by Lucy Finney, MBE

Lucy is Head of Leadership Development with Underscore Group.  She is passionate about inspirational leadership and works our clients to unlock the potential of their future leaders.

If you’d like to learn more about inspirational leadership, and develop yourself or your team in this area, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to design a bespoke programme for you.


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