Six Different Pathways to Inspirational Leadership

Six Different Pathways to Inspirational LeadershipA few months ago in Charismatic Leadership is Vastly Overrated I quoted from a European study published in Sloan Management Review on the downside of charisma. I also quoted Good to Great author, Jim Collins, reporting on his findings that charisma can be more of a leadership liability than an asset.

Despite the mounting proof to the contrary, many people still cling to the outdated belief that the path to rallying people to high levels of motivation and performance is through charismatic leadership. A few years ago Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman studied their growing database of tens of thousands of 360 assessments to apply an evidence-based approach to this critical issue. They set out to provide a more scientific understanding of the approaches used by the top 10% of leaders in “inspiring and motivating others” as rated by their direct reports, peers, manager, and others.

Zenger Folkman discovered six very different pathways to inspiring leadership:

Visionary – providing a clear picture of the future and being able to communicate that to the team.
Enhancing – creating positive one-on-one relationships along with team relationships by being a great listener and connecting emotionally with people.
Driver – displaying a focused pursuit to make the numbers and complete things on time and generally being accountable for personal and group performance.
Principled – providing a powerful role model of doing the right things in the right way.
Enthusiast – exuding passion and energy about the organization, its goals, and the work itself.
Expert – providing a strong technical direction that comes from deep expertise.

It turned out that “enthusiast” — charismatic leadership — was the second least used approach by leaders rated as being extraordinarily inspiring. Exceptional leaders used a combination of the six pathways to inspire and motivate others. They didn’t try to change their basic nature, but used approaches that built on their natural strengths.

Zenger Folkman then set out to answer another key question; can leaders learn to be more inspiring? The “are-leaders-made-or-born” debate has been around for decades. The growing mass of evidence overwhelmingly shows that leadership can be learned and developed. Read Joe Folkman’s Forbes column, Everything Counts: The 6 Ways To Inspire And Motivate Top Performance, for a look at the results of a ZF study of 300 leaders who were given pre and post tests on their inspirational leadership skills over an 18 – 24 month period.

A much deeper look at Zenger Folkman’s research and the six pathways is outlined in their insightful and very practical book, The Inspiring Leader: Unlocking the Secrets of How Extraordinary Leaders Motivate. Click on the book title to read my review and on “Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmm on … The Inspiring Leader.

Based on their extensive and ongoing research around inspiring leadership Joe concludes; “This evidence is clear. With awareness, good feedback and a plan of development, leaders are most definitely able to make significant improvement on this most important of all leadership competencies.”

The Inspiring Leader is one of three workshops (along with The Extraordinary Leader and The Extraordinary Coach) available at Zenger Folkman’s value-packed Leadership Summit on July 29 – August 1 in beautiful Park City, Utah (30 minutes from Salt Lake City airport). See Tuesday’s blog on this Very Rare Leadership Summit Opportunity.

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