Leading with purpose: How to become an inspirational leader

Posted 05 Jul 2018 | Blog | How To | HR & Leadership

July is an important month for me. Like so many others, July was the month I left academic studies and began making my way in the world. Whenever this anniversary rolls around, I can’t help but reflect on my journey so far:

1. Get a job? Check.
2. Get a job I actually like? Check again.

Looking to the future, I hope to one day become a leader in my field: one that’s recognised for making a meaningful contribution to a worthy cause and benefits society as a whole; and one that inspires others to do the same.

But how do you actually become a ‘leader’ in the first place? And how do you learn to inspire others? Does it just involve getting a certain number of years under your belt, or do you get a golden badge after so many years of managing people?

The concept of ‘leadership’ can be confusing at the best of times. A quick search online yields 1.8 billion results on everyone’s favourite search engine, most of which just reference a Steve Jobs quote. Fortunately, working at Pilotlight means I have the chance to interact with senior leaders from the private, public and charity sectors every day.

And so, as an anniversary gift to myself, and one I’d like to share with you, I captured some tips from our Pilotlighters and CEOs at our partner charities on how to develop into an inspirational leader… 

  • Leaders listen

So this one slightly surprised me at first. Surely, as the leader, you’ve earned the right speak the most and the loudest? 

Apparently not. A professor from one of the world’s leading business schools told me that “active listening is one of the most underrated skills amongst leaders”. Why? Well, aside from making sure that your own views can stand up to challenge, listening engages and energises those around you.

  • Honesty is the best policy

Again, I wouldn’t have guessed that ‘honesty’ is a top characteristic in leaders. I mean, lying is rarely the way to go, but surely leaders need to keep certain things to themselves?

As it turns out, it is very difficult to get other people to follow you, let alone be inspired by you, if they can’t trust your words and actions. Conversely, being open and honest with people invites their loyalty and unlocks potential solutions that you might not have thought of. 

  • Remember your vision and values

Okay, this one’s easy. As a leader, you have to set the vision and values that you want your staff to follow. Right?

Well, sort of. Leaders do need to take a lead role in identifying a common purpose and a strong set of values that can guide the organisation forward, however these need to be shared by your colleagues, or else they’ll be quickly forgotten. 

  • Learn to let go

This seems to me to be completely counter-intuitive; how are you supposed to let go when you have ultimate responsibility for your organisation?

Because no-one likes having their boss breathing down their neck, you need the freedom to do your job well. One of the leaders I spoke to at our recent annual conference likened leadership to being a parent: you play different roles at different points in time, but you must acknowledge your limits and, where necessary, let go. Otherwise you might find yourself the victim of adolescent behaviour!

  • It’s all about the people

This makes sense. If we take the “learn to let go” point to its logical conclusion, it becomes clear that inspirational leaders focus on supporting their staff and peers to do their jobs well. I guess being a leader isn’t about doing all of the hard work for them, but providing them with the example, advice and resources they need to thrive, and inspire them to do their job well.

  • Get out of the bubble

Now you’re talking my language. Our Pilotlighters and charity CEOs constantly praise our programmes for taking them out of the ‘bubble’ of their day jobs, and say they return to work happier and with a higher sense of wellbeing and purpose.

To me, this point is so crucial: you need to make time to get outside the office and experience other perspectives on how you can do business, which will keep you grounded and expand your skill-set.

I’m looking forward to learning more from the people I meet and work with here, as we bring charity and business leaders together to achieve positive social change. Hopefully come next July, I can contribute a bit more to the discussion!