Inspiring Leaders by Martyn Newman PhD., DPsych.

Inspiring Leaders – Why They Do What They Do and How Everyone Can Do It

Martyn Newman PhD., DPsych.

November 2010

Most of us agree that great leaders are those that inspire us to act and give us a sense of purpose that has little to do with any external incentive or reward. They have a remarkable ability to tap into the very personal, intrinsic motivations that drive each of us and help us reach for something better in ourselves. And we know that people who love going to work, are more creative and more productive, and they treat their colleagues, clients and customers better.

Imagine if more people inside the organization could learn to think, act and communicate like those who inspire us? Imagine if the ability to inspire others could be practiced not just by a select few, but also by the majority?

Leadership abilities, such as those described by emotional intelligence (EQ), explain what leaders do, but not why they perform. Furthermore, knowing what to do is all very well, but the big question is how to do it. In the course of working with some of the world’s best organizations over the last 12 years, the question of how to develop inspirational leaders is the most common one that I’ve faced.

In this article I’d like explain why leaders do what they do that inspires us and then describe to you a revolutionary new tool that’s just been launched for building inspired leaders — SmartCoach. This goes a long way to answering the question of how to develop a leadership culture that motivates colleagues and customers and inspires the rest of us. According to more than 20 years of research in psychology, there are at least seven common factors that contribute to creating positive behavior change.

1. Engagement: “I have a dream…”

According to leadership expert and author, Simon Sinek, most of us can explain what we do at work Some of us can also describe how we do it. Great leaders, on the other hand, can also clearly explain why they do what they do. Being clear about your aspirations and dreams, and being able to articulate the values that shape your beliefs, goes to the very heart of great leadership.

We are drawn to leaders and organizations that can communicate why they believe what they believe. True leaders are really CSOs — Chief Storytelling Officers — and the stories they tell provide the inspiration for people as well as organizations. Your job as a leader is to tell and re-tell the story of why you do what you do, and what your business is capable of achieving. Most importantly, it is about enabling people to understand the value of their contribution to the story.

In other words, the how of building leadership skills begins with telling people what they do and, more importantly, why they do it. People engagement is the single most important factor influencing the value of any leadership training. As the poet Yeats said, “Education is not about filling a bucket, but lighting a fire V’

2. Benchmarking: Self-Discovery & Self-Directed Change

Even when people are motivated to develop their EQ and leadership skills, they can often remain unclear about how to do so — until they become aware of how they measure up. There are many ways of gaining feedback on performance, but by far the most credible and compelling way is to benchmark emotional and social competencies and provide feedback using high-quality psychometric assessment tools. Comparing our skills against a well- established benchmark of peer performance clarifies where we currently stand and has the effect of engaging our internal drive to improve.

In other words, engaging intrinsic motives has a more sustainable impact on behavior than simply appealing to extrinsic, carrot-and-stick motives. To encourage development leaders need to see where they have already been successful and leverage their strengths in a personal development plan

3. Create Manageable, Measurable Goals & Share Them

Performance in training programs improves dramatically when participants set explicit goals for change. In fact, the motivating power of such goals is greatly enhanced when they are declared publicly and put in writing. In one particularly well-conducted study, participants in a leadership training program were much more likely to apply what they had learned when, following the training, their supervisors were able to remind them of their goals and had encouraged them to use their new skills.

When people are ready to commit to a program of change, setting specific goals helps create and sustain lasting motivation Even Benjamin Franklin insisted that setting daily and weekly goals was indispensable to becoming a virtuous person

Leaders who communicate a dream also need to have a plan. If communicating the dream or the vision is why people find you inspiring, then setting goals provide the ‘what to do’ that galvanizes people’s energy and gives them something practical to focus on In other words, average leaders provide their people with something to work on, but the most inspiring leaders give their people something to work towards.

4. Model the Skills

Provide people with opportunities to observe the skills they want to acquire. Modeling is a more effective learning method than simply being told about the skills because it requires greater attention and accelerates learning.

This is much more than simply ‘monkey see, monkey do’. It’s not only about copying the practical tactics and strategy that drives real change, it’s also about understanding why these behaviors work and how to practice them.

5. Practice New Skills & Provide Feedback

Providing clear models of the desired behavior, along with psychological insight, is not sufficient in itself. Repeated, deliberate practice of the targeted skills is essential.

A common mistake in EQ training is to assume that leaders can acquire these behaviors quickly by attending motivational seminars. Although these activities can certainly inspire the desire to change, real behavioral change requires practice and repetition over an extended period. Psychologists refer to this as ‘distributed practice’ (i.e. practice over time), as compared to ‘massed practice’ that takes place in a short concentrated burst. In fact, recent research has shown that learners exposed to distributed practice far outperformed those employing massed practice. And although practice may not make you perfect, it will certainly make you better.

Organizational psychologists have long known that consistent constructive feedback is the most effective way to motivate people and provide direction Records of your success help you recognise the progress you are making and create the positive momentum for continued change.

6. Provide Follow-Up Support

Research has shown that the value of learning is maintained, if not greatly enhanced, when people receive targeted coaching support from a reinforcing reference group or an individual. In other words, providing coaching and mentoring to people on the job contributes greatly to positive change.

In recent years, there has been a rapid growth in the use of one-on-one executive coaching. Various approaches to delivering executive coaching have been used. By far the most powerful programs have been those that combine seven elements: goal setting, feedback, skills practice, supervisor journaling, constant evaluation and end-results.

Cost-effective online coaching platforms that cover these seven elements can provide the critical follow-up support that is often missing in traditional leadership programs. And, psychologists have long known that such support maximizes skill transfer and prevents relapse.

However, due to the high costs associated with coaching programs they have largely been restricted to a chosen few. In response to this challenge, we recently launched an online coaching platform, SmartCoach ‘“that successfully integrates each of the seven elements described in the research into a dynamic interactive leadership program that can be delivered cost-effectively across an organization

7. Evaluate change

An important part of any leadership program is to measure an individual’s actual performance against the behaviors targeted for change. Leaders who have been involved in setting their own targets are generally more likely to make progress.

Documenting individual progress by evaluating changes in both understanding and behavior reinforces learning, charts the way forward and demonstrates return on investment. Nothing succeeds like success.


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Martyn Newman is CEO of RocheMartin Ltd, a Strategic Business Partner of DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists