Effective Leadership Skills: Seven Secrets of Inspiring Leaders

By: Carmine Gallo

Inspiration is in short supply in America today. Gallup reports that only 28 percent of US employees are “engaged” at work. The majority are either disengaged or “actively disengaged.” A global recession, lay-offs and scandals have left many employees discouraged, disillusioned and demoralized.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As a leader, you have the ability to inspire, energize and to positively influence your team if you learn the language of employee motivation.

As a communication skills coach and author of several books on leadership, I have interviewed men and women who run highly engaged workplaces:  Zappos, Starbucks, Google, The Ritz-Carlton, and many others. Each and every one of these inspiring leaders share 7 qualities that anyone can adopt to build more engaged teams. Using INSPIRE as an acronym, here are the seven traits that will set you apart as a leader:

Ignite your enthusiasm. You cannot inspire unless you’re inspired yourself. Passion is everything. Richard Tait left a high level position at Microsoft to start a board game. When his father asked, “What should I tell my friends?” Tait suggested that he tell them, “My son is following his heart. He’s going to make history.” Tait is the founder of Cranium, one of the fastest-selling board games in history. I worked with Tait to prepare him for presentations and television interviews. Before I met him, a colleague of mine said, “Within 5 minutes you’ll want to work for him.”

I never did go to work for Cranium, but I understand what she meant. Tait wore his passion openly. I quickly learned that he wasn’t passionate about building board games; he was passionate about building self esteem.  Passion is revealed by asking yourself, “What does our company brand stand for? How does it improve the lives of our customers?” Once you identify what it is you are truly passionate about — your brand’s core purpose — then you should communicate that passion in all of your conversations. Passion is contagious.

Navigate a course of action. Inspiring leaders articulate a vision that is simple, concise, bold and achievable. Passion fuels the rocket, but vision directs the rocket to its final destination. When man landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, it marked the culmination of John F. Kennedy’s vision first spoken in 1961: “This nation will land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade.” Although many leading scientists did not believe it could be accomplished in Kennedy’s time frame, enough of them thought it was possible to make the goal “achievable.” It was certainly bold because it had never been done before. It was concise — if Twitter had been around in 1961, Kennedy could have posted his vision as a tweet and still had characters to spare. And it was simple — not simple to achieve, but simple for most people to internalize.

Sell the benefit. Inspiring leaders sell the benefit behind reaching their vision. Your employees don’t care about your “company.” They don’t wake up Monday morning eager to increase shareholder value. They care about their hopes, dreams and ambitions. Help people achieve their dreams and they will walk through walls for you.

Paint a picture. Inspiring leaders incorporate storytelling in the workplace. The Ritz-Carlton is the gold standard for customer service in the hospitality industry. Each day, every employee in every department in every hotel across the entire Ritz-Carlton chain attends a staff meeting where they share “wow stories,” stories of exceptional customer service by real employees who exceed customer expectations. Ritz Carlton President, Simon Cooper, told me that these wow stories serve two purposes: 1) Educational. The stories reinforce service values that the Ritz-Carlton expects their staff to maintain. 2) Motivational. Employees want local fame. In other words, they want to be recognized by their peers.

Invite participation. Inspiring leaders solicit feedback, listen to that feedback and incorporate what they hear. Google’s Vice President of Search Products Marissa Mayer once told me that she considers active participation so important to the company’s success, she schedules office hours. Each day from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., her employees are encouraged to sign up on a board outside her office for a 15-minute appointment. During this time employees can voice their opinion about current projects or pitch new ideas. Mayer says some of the best ideas that are featured on the Google site have come from these spontaneous meetings. “Most employees, especially young people, want more than a paycheck,” says Mayer. “They want to be appreciated for the impact they are having.”

Reinforce optimism. Successful leaders are more optimistic than average. This doesn’t mean they stick their head in the sand when the economy is collapsing around them, but they are always focused on the long-term value their brand creates for the customer. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Alan Mulally, Ford CEO. Mulally is unfailingly positive in his interactions with outsiders and employees. His optimism is contagious. His team reflects his attitude. In the depths of the automobile crisis, Mulally’s speeches and e-mails were filled with words of hope, optimism and excitement about the future. When most people see dark days ahead, inspiring leaders speak words of hope.

Encourage their potential. The online shoe and clothing retailer, Zappos, has become synonymous with a highly engaged workplace and exceptional customer service. When I toured Zappos headquarters in Henderson, Nevada, I came across an office with a “goal coach.” This person’s job was to help employees reach their goals, whatever those goals might be. One employee wanted to write a book, another wanted to learn to play the guitar. “What does this have to do with Zappos?” I asked. “It has everything to do with Zappos,” responded the goal coach. When employees know that you are committed to helping them grow as individuals, they will return the gesture with respect, loyalty and commitment.

You will never be seen as a true leader until you inspire those around you. Once you do, magical things begin to happen. Imagine what your company would be like when customers want to buy from you, investors want to back you, employees want to work for you, and everyone is energized by your presence. Be astonishing. Be electrifying. Be the Chief Inspiration Officer for your department and your brand!

Author Bio
Carmine Gallo
is a communications coach for the world’s most admired brands. His is a popular speaker and author on the topic of leadership and communications.  His book, Fire Them Up, contains direct insights from more than two dozen well-known CEOs, leaders, entrepreneurs and educators. Gallo’s most recent book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, is a bestselling presentation book that will be translated into more than one dozen languages. His new book, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, will be released in October, 2010. Visit Carmine online at Carminegallo.com.