In a survey of more than one and a half thousand managers, people were asked what they would most like to see in their leaders. The most popular answer, mentioned by 55% of people, was ‘inspiration.’ Yet when asked if they would describe their current leader as ‘inspiring’ only 11% said yes.
The two attributes that people actually mentioned most often when describing their leaders were ‘knowledgeable’ and ‘ambitious.’ As well as this thirst for inspiring leadership, there’s also evidence to support the idea that companies with inspiring leaders perform better.
The Sunday Times publishes an annual survey of the ‘Best Companies to Work For’, which is compiled from the opinions of the companies’ own employees. One interesting fact is that those ‘Best Companies’ that are publicly quoted consistently outperform the FTSE All-Share Index. Five-year compound returns show a 5.7% negative return for FTSE All-Share companies against a 13.6% gain for the Best Companies. Over three years, the returns were -11.3% and 6.7% respectively while, in the last twelve months, they were 23.1% and 44%.
The ‘Best Companies to Work For’ have also performed impressively on staff turnover, sickness rates, absenteeism, and the ability to recruit good quality people.
The stereotype of the inspirational leader as someone extrovert and charismatic is the exception rather than the rule. Looking at best practice across business, though some inspirational leaders certainly do fit this mould, a large number do not. Many are quiet, almost introverted.
My personal view is that the best leaders promote a culture where their people value themselves, each other, the company and the customers. Everyone understands how their work makes a difference. This helps to build a commitment to higher standards where everybody is always looking to do things better.