The Inspiring Leader by Jack ZengerThis is an extraordinary book on leadership from the experts in extraordinary leadership. In 2002, legendary training and development expert Jack Zenger (he’s been given numerous international awards and citations) and Joe Folkman (renowned psychometrician with extensive expertise in survey research and leader assessments) published their groundbreaking book The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders. That book was based on their extensive database of more than 200,000 multi-rater or 360-degree feedback reports describing 20,000 managers. It became the foundation for Zenger Folkman’s thriving leadership development and consulting firm.

The Inspiring Leader  draws from this deep well of research to bring an evidence-based or hard scientific approach to the very soft issue of inspirational leadership. There are countless opinions, platitudes, theories, anecdotes, and leadership models competing for attention today. Periodically I search Amazon for an update on how many leadership books are available. Today’s search shows over 50,000!

What’s refreshingly unique about all of Zenger Folkman’s books and services is their very powerful combination of solid research, building on strengths, and practical how-to applications. As they write in Chapter One, “this book is not a creation of ideas for how leaders inspire. Rather, it provides you with a discovery of what the best leaders around the world do to inspire and motivate others.”

The Inspiring Leader emerged from Zenger Folkman’s ongoing analysis of their extraordinary leader database in answer to the question “So if I have to choose one thing to work on, what should it be?” A deeper look at their leadership research led to the conclusion; “that there was one leadership competency that deserved some special attention. It was ‘inspires and motivates to high performance.'”

This proved to be the most powerful predictor of anyone being seen as an extraordinary leader from their empirical field of 16 leadership competencies. Tens of thousands of frontline staff and team members resoundingly identified this competency as the one they wanted most in their leader. It was also the competency most associated with high levels of employee engagement, and “consistently the most highly correlated with those employees who would recommend the organization to a friend, seldom thought about leaving, and were willing to go the extra mile.

As the Zenger Folkman team sifted and sliced their leadership data on inspirational leadership the identified three attributes forming the cornerstone for inspiring and motivating others: 1. Role Model; 2. Change Champion; and 3. Initiator. After showing the impact of each of these attributes, the section of the book provides a series of practical steps on behaviors and actions leaders can take to strengthen all three.

Their chapter on “Using Emotion: The DNA of Inspiration” aligns very well with the growing research on Emotional Intelligence. Once again, the authors move from insightful understanding to application. As with most of the other chapters, this one ends with bulleted and very helpful Steps to Take.

The largest part of The Inspiring Leader are chapters on six core leadership behaviors that inspire and motivate:

  1. Setting stretch goals
  2. Creating vision and direction
  3. Communicating powerfully
  4. Developing people
  5. Being collaborative and a good team player
  6. Fostering innovation

Each chapter explains and illustrates the leadership behavior and provides examples, keys, processes, and how-to steps. One of the final chapters on “Most Common Mistakes in Inspiring Others” is built around a top ten list of uninspirational behavior.

This is a rare gem buried in the growing pile of leadership books. Like a precious gem its value comes from its rarity. The Inspiring Leader uniquely and powerfully combines research on what the most inspiring leaders actually do, insightful examples, short, pithy, bite-sized sections in simple and very readable language, and how-to, practical steps to move you from inspiration to application. Highly recommended.

My next blog features a few findings and excerpts from the book.