Thankfully, if managers sense that something’s off, these things seem relatively straightforward to correct: There are prescribed strategies for becoming a fair, attentive, not-too-nice-but-not-too-mean boss.
But being inspiring is a different story. It’s a trait that seems intangible; something that can’t be improved upon. You either are or you aren’t—right?
While some managers may seem by nature to be more inspiring than others, I tend to think that it’s not exclusively innate. It’s just a matter of finding out what traits in a leader push employees to strive to be better—and incorporating them into your own day-to-day management style. Here are a few of those things:
1. Someone Who Works Harder Than Everyone Else
When I worked at a startup and looked to my boss, the founder of the young company, I wanted to see someone who was desperately hungry for the company to succeed; who was willing to do what was needed, whenever it was needed, to get the work done. There would be days when she would already be in the office when we got in and would stay for hours after we left.
And that made the rest of the team want to work just as hard.
Does this mean you need to work crazy hours just to show your team that you work harder than them? No. But they should be able to clearly see your dedication to your work and the success of the department and company—because they will pick up on it and follow your example.
2. Someone Who’s Enthusiastic About What They Do
Just like employees, bosses can go through stints of burnout. Just the other week, I was talking to my boss on the phone, and he couldn’t seem to get through a single sentence without a big dramatic sigh as he talked about how overwhelmed he was.
But hearing about how much work you have, how frustrated you are with your boss, and how you just can’t take it anymore isn’t going to inspire your employees to be enthusiastic about their own jobs. In fact, it’ll probably do the opposite.
Employees want to be able to look to their managers and see that they love what they do—that even amid frustrations and heavy workloads, they’re passionate about their work and enjoy what they do on a daily basis. That kind of enthusiasm is infectious. It reminds employees of why they’re there and what they’re working toward.
3. Someone Who Sets the Bar High
The best leaders know what their team members are capable of—and then push them just a little bit further.
At first, this can be frustrating to employees. They hear a challenging goal and their first thought is that the expectations are unrealistic and the manager is simply being cruel to assign something so unattainable. But a truly inspirational leader will then provide a way for the employees to achieve the “unachievable”—by providing the guidance, coaching, and resources necessary to get to the finish line.
In the end, when employees see what they’re truly capable of, they’re inspired to continue working for those hard-to-reach goals—knowing their manager is there to back them up the whole way.
4. Someone Who Doesn’t Ignore the Problems
We’ve all had that one boss who tolerates the underperformers for a little too long, who treats the employees who don’t do quality work (or much work at all) the same as the employees who go above and beyond.
Or, there’s the boss who allows sub-par work to pass through his or her hands. “This isn’t exactly what the client wanted, but we’ll just have to go ahead and submit it,” he or she says.
But the inspiring leader is the one who pays attention to the issues and doesn’t tolerate mediocrity. She addresses low-performing employees so that her team is as strong as possible; he sees—and points out—when assignments don’t meet the mark and explains how to make them better. The inspiring manager says, “I have high standards, and we’re going to do whatever is necessary to produce work we stand behind and can be proud of.”
“Be more inspiring” can seem like an unattainable goal—and one you don't have much influence over. But when you know what your employees find inspirational and work toward embodying those things, you can boost your inspiration factor big time.