Inspirational leaders, do they really matter?

Inspiring leadersBeing a good CEO, or even ‘simply’ a good manager, is not that easy. Of course you have picked up those skills that make you good at your job along the way, but on top of the technical skills it also takes diplomatic abilities, negotiation cleverness, people skills, years of hard work and certainly business acumen. Yet, having all of this might still not be enough to make you a good leader because what is now expected from you is the ability to inspire the people that work for and with you. Why? Because inspiring leaders manage to drive employee engagement, brand alignment, and an aspiration for excellence. Ultimately, they drive a business towards success.

But don’t be fooled, companies don’t only need inspiring leaders; on the contrary, they also need effective managers. Here is an interesting article about the difference between leaders and managers and why they are both crucial roles: Leader, manager, and politician

If you want to be a leader, and your goal is to inspire your people, don’t just look at Steve Jobs and Richard Branson as models. Contrary to what many think, in order to inspire people you don’t need to work for a cool company like Apple or to be a personality. Allow me to give you a real example.

10 years ago I was working for an insurance company, arguably not exactly the coolest line of business. At the time the company was run by a CEO in his early 60s. The company operated across 5 states and he was based in a different one from where I was working. Day 3 into my new job with this company (at the time I was a junior marketing coordinator) and a very friendly person approaches my desk and says: ‘Hi I’m Dave. You are…?’

I was taken back. Who is this person that so nonchalantly walks into my cubicle to find out who I am? Being quite a shy person, I ended up being a bit brusque in my response. And then my next desk colleague says: ‘That’s our CEO, he always come to say Hi to new people when he visits’. Admittedly ours was only a medium size company, yet I was impressed.

In the years that followed I learned so much from Dave*. He gave a lot of space to people to develop their abilities, many colleagues stayed but changed positions as they figured out what role was most suitable for them. We were given plenty of opportunities to learn, to offer our input, to be listened to and to try out new things (I was sent on a course on how to make social media work for business when MySpace was still the big player in the field!). All that was asked in return was dedication to the company, alignment with its values, and real care for the company’s customers. We worked long hours, yes, but we were happy. I even remember loving Mondays! Of course it was not only Dave, his management style was matched by the style of most managers in the company, and this is because it was really the culture of the company that was inspiring. A culture that he as CEO embraced and helped develop.

Fast forward 10 years and I’m moving to London with my family. In order to help me memorise our new postcode my husband says: D for Dave S for Sky. I look at my husband in disbelief. ‘Do you know that that is the name of my former CEO?!’ I ask. ‘Of course’, he responds, ‘ you have been talking about him for years and now you have proof that I do listen at least some of the time!’

Thinking about it, he was right, while working at that insurance company I spoke about him a lot, and even for years after. The reason was simple: Dave had inspired me. The pride he showed in his work, the respect towards his colleagues, the humbleness towards the people working for him, his fairness, his putting the values of our company in front a mere profit, these are things that are hard to find in a manager of any level. Was he perfect? I guess not. But he was able to drive us to give our best, which in turn meant a better performance for the company.

What I learned is that a CEO that embraces the values of the company he leads, that genuinely cares about the people he works with, and that strives to get the best out of them is a great resource for any business and their brand.

Such a CEO contributes immensely to the level of staff engagement, who in turn are keener to live up to the mission, values and vision of the company, allowing it to achieve an alignment between the external and internal brand that ensures that customers get the best experience possible.

So, what does it take to become an inspirational leader? There are many things that a manager could do to become a good leader, but I find that the 3 following steps are the most crucial:

1) Believe! Believe in what you do, in what your company does, in the values of your company. Embrace the company’s vision, its mission, and by doing so your people will follow you because they will believe in you. You will inspire them to live the company values, to put the customer at the centre, to be proud of their job and to see the value that they bring to the business with their every day job.

2) Be transparent. Be open, ask questions, even the uncomfortable ones. Nobody is perfect, nor are you. By leaving the door open to suggestions, to two-way communication, to input from everyone in the company, you open yourself and your business to an invaluable source of solutions to improve your business.

3) Develop your personal brand. Define your personal brand, identify your target audience, and communicate with them effectively in order to showcase your thought leadership. From blogs to speaking opportunities; from articles to your social media presence, make sure that you develop a brand that inspires your people to trust you and follow you, while giving to your customers even more reasons to choose your business. (More on this in my next article on how to develop a personal brand…)

*Name is invented to protect his privacy

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About the author: Giulia Iannucci is a strategic branding and marketing consultant, and founder of KnowThyBrand


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