Inspirational Leadership – through the lens of Emotional Intelligence

By Elisabeth Goodman, 5th February 2019

12. Inspirational Leadership, in Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman et al, Key Step Media, 2017

Here we are at the twelfth and last of the booklets that I have been working my way through in these blogs, and in my RiverRhee newsletters (see full list in the notes below.)

Each booklet has provided me with some terrific insights, and ones that we have also endeavoured to share in RiverRhee’s courses for managers, leaders and individual team members.

So here are some key points from this last booklet and some other sources …

What is inspirational leadership?

I wrote previously, in a RiverRhee newsletter, about some characteristics of inspirational leadership based on a book of that title by Claudio Feser.

Feser suggested that the basis of this type of leadership is to have a strong focus on the goal to be achieved, to influence people in such as way that they are committed towards a course of action, and to encourage and support them to take ownership for their actions.

Goleman et al define the competency of inspirational leadership in a very similar way, as:

“..the ability to inspire and guide people to get the job done, and to bring out their best.  With inspiration, you can articulate a shared mission in a way that motivates and offer a sense of common purpose beyond people’s day-to-day tasks.”

These are Goleman’s and the other author’s suggestions for how to make this happen…

articulate a vision, mission or purpose – share it and keep it alive

We know from the work of Dan Pink and many others that having a clear sense of ‘why’ we are doing something is a great motivator.  Goleman cites an example of Medtronic, which makes medical devices, inviting patients in to talk about how their devices had saved their lives.  I had a similar experience when working at GSK where our Chief Medical Officer interviewed patients or their carers in the auditorium to give us an insight on how our work could make a difference to their lives.

The people working in the small and medium sized Life Science organisations that we work with often have a clear vision of what their organisations want to achieve.  And they have a passion for that.  Leaders who can keep that vision and passion alive, and articulate it clearly and with conviction, will be more effective than others.

As Annie McKee points out, it is all too easy to lose touch of what she calls “the noble purpose” of an organisation.  It can become buried by short-term goals and pressures.  The larger the organisation, the easier it is for this to happen.

Here are some things that she suggests leaders can do to keep that vision and passion alive:

  • Develop your own self-awareness: tune into what is important to you in your work, keep your energy and attention focused on that, communicate it in the conversations that you have with others
  • Take some time out, as a leadership team, to reflect and reconnect with a joint sense of purpose.
  • Initiate discussions throughout the organisation to help everyone reconnect.

Engage with the heart as well as the head

Matthew Taylor builds on some of the ideas above, for example by saying: “For leaders to truly inspire they must get out of their heads…, into their hearts.., and authentically connect to their people.”

This means connecting at an emotional level with what is important to you, and with what is important to the people that you work with.  It requires not only self-awareness, but the ability to truly listen and observe.

In fact, as Matthew Lippincott says, inspirational leadership requires all four parts of the authors’ emotional intelligence model: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.

Mette Miriam Boell puts this very well: “It [a systems approach to leadership] calls for a quieting down internally, so that leaders can be present to the interconnected nature of our lives.  That’s why refinements of emotional and social skills are as important as any cognitive processes for a leader to truly come into character.”

This cognitive and emotional awareness will give leaders what they need to enable them to influence others – something that is more explicitly explored in Claudio Feser’s characteristics of inspirational leadership

Click here for information on RiverRhee’s training, workshops and coaching for leaders, managers and teams

It is possible to develop your own and others’ skills as inspirational leaders

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz takes us through his own, and a Japanese female manager’s journeys into becoming inspirational leaders.

He suggests that individuals need to start with some underlying potential, and then have “a combination of best practices for development and the right partner for your change process”.

Underlying potential

In the case of the Japanese manager’s case study, the underlying potential seemed to be a combination of curiosity, insight, engagement and determination.

Mette Miriam Boell reminds us that leaders can be found at every level of the organisation – not just at the top.  She also reminds us that the Latin origins of to inspire (inspirare) is “to breathe life into”.  So that an inspirational leader is able to share their vision in such a way that it is owned by everyone in an organisation, so that they too become leaders, and so that the vision becomes a collective aspiration.

Boell tells us that for a leader to do this requires a certain humility, a willingness to step aside and make room for others to step up to leadership, and a courageous openness to the unknown and the uncertainty that might result from this.

Matthew Lippincott adds integrity and vulnerabity to the list.  Also an active interest in the personal and professional wellbeing, and in the development of others (both technical skills and personal growth).

Best practices for development

Fernández-Aráoz’s case study of the Japanese manager showed how giving her the opportunity to lead strategic initiatives, combined with leadership training and support from a mentor was instrumental to her development as an inspirational leader.

Lippincott shares another case study where the CEO in question developed the leadership potential of others in a number of ways including:

  • Rotating his team through such responsibilities as managing meetings
  • Training team members in public speaking and developing presentations
  • Providing continuous, improvement-oriented feedback in internal meetings
  • Assigning reading and dialogue among team members to foster better understanding of customer service, integrity and quality
  • Creating a mindset that “passionate arguments” are acceptable and, handled constructively, are a vital part of the creative process and of personal and team development

Concluding thoughts

Do you have the qualities and the opportunities to become an inspirational leader?

How are you, and how could you develop others to become inspirational leaders within your organisation?


Blogs on the other booklets in the Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence series:

About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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