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7 Traits of Truly Inspiring Leaders

The managers who inspire employees and colleagues to achieve greatness tend to have these characteristics. Do you?
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After conducting interviews with thousands of executives, I've noticed there's a subset of bosses who inspire their employees and colleagues to achieve more than they ever thought possible.

These individuals tend to share the following traits:

1. Purpose

Inspiring leaders believe that success serves a higher purpose. When you ask what motivates them, they talk about making other people successful.

Uninspiring leaders believe that success is their higher purpose. When you ask what motivates them, they talk about what makes them personally satisfied.

2. Giving Back

Inspiring leaders feel an obligation to "give back." Their long-term plans usually include pro bono work or even endowing a charity.

Uninspiring leaders feel no such obligation. Their long-term plans are limited to cashing in and/or buying physical objects.

3. Gratitude

Inspiring leaders are deeply grateful. They know that their success is hugely dependent upon accidents of birth and circumstance.

Uninspiring leaders are self-satisfied. They secretly believe their success is a natural result of being smarter and better than everyone else.

4. Beliefs & Values

Inspiring leaders treasure their beliefs. They don't wear their values on their sleeves, but their deeply held convictions pervade everything they say and do.

Uninspiring leaders foist their opinions. They demand converts to whatever religious sect or management fad currently captures their fancy.

5. Empathy

Inspiring leaders care about people. They agree with Bill Gates that the fortunate few have an obligation to help those who are less fortunate.

Uninspiring leaders couldn't care less. They agree with Ayn Rand that the poor are merely "moochers" begging for a handout.

6. Team Focus

Inspiring leaders spread the credit. They never brag about themselves. Instead they redirect praise toward everyone else on the team.

Uninspiring leaders spread the blame. They are as quick to mention the mistakes of underlings as they are to toot their own horns.

7. Energy

Inspiring leaders are uplifting. You come away from meetings with them thinking, Gee, I'd really like to work here.

Uninspiring leaders are depressing. You come away from meetings with them thinking, Gee, I'm glad I don't work for that jerk.

Every truly inspiring executive, manager, or entrepreneur I've ever met has shared most or all of the traits described above.

Are there uninspiring leaders? Absolutely. And they're often quite good at motivating people. They just use different tools: primarily fear and greed.

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Last updated: Jul 9, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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