Is Inspiring Others Worth The Effort?

March 9, 2021

Inspiring leaders

Choosing to Inspire Others

Imagine the frustrating process of getting kids out the door to school on time. It’s a battle when they’re moving too slow or simply not moving. What typically happens with parents is the volume goes up, there’s an escalated amount of energy, but mainly there is a lot of demanding and not a lot of inspiring to get children to move out the door quickly.

As a founder or leader, when you need high performance, what behaviors do you fall back on? For most people, their knee-jerk approach is to push harder. I call that competency, “Drive for Results.” But there is a different way of getting high performance, which has exactly the same goal. We can describe it as “pull.” It is the ability to “Inspire and Motivate Others.”

Is it better to push or to pull?

When speaking with a large group in Massachusetts I asked, “How many of you know how to push?” Everyone raised their hands. But then I asked, “How many of you know how to pull?” Most people are not exactly sure what they would do to pull. If you were challenged to pull more, would you know what to do?

Most clients I visit will tell me that delivering results is a very important competency and something they emphasize in their organizations. My colleague Jack Zenger and I did a study where we looked at the impact of being effective at driving for results versus inspiring others. We identified leaders who were in the top quartile on both competencies as rated by their direct reports. We also measured discretionary effort. Discretionary effort is the percentage of employees working for each leader who was willing to go the extra mile and do more than expected.

We found that leaders who were not strong in either Results or Inspires had only 25% of their employees who were highly committed. But if a leader was in the top quartile on Results but not on Inspiration, the percentage of highly committed employees went up to 40%.

The message is clear: Leaders who set deadlines and hold direct reports accountable for performance increase discretionary effort.

Being at the top quartile on Inspiration but not on Results provided a slightly higher level of highly committed employees, at 45%. Having the ability to generate excitement and commitment to indirect reports is another way to increase discretionary effort. The largest increase in the percentage of highly committed employees, however, came from leaders who were in the top quartile on both competencies. In that case, a full 63% of employees were willing to go the extra mile to achieve goals.

ZFCO study- Leaders across the Globe

Most leaders have focused a fair amount of their effort on becoming better at Driving for Results. This study shows there is a good payoff for that effort. Leaders who are skilled at Results increase discretionary effort among their direct reports, which, in turn, increases productivity. For leaders who are already skilled at Results, imagine the impact of also becoming more skilled at Inspiration. On average, these leaders could increase the discretionary effort of the highly committed employees in their team by another 23%, resulting in even greater productivity.

Do Leaders become more inspiring as they age?

I also wondered if people would become more inspiring as they aged. As you can see from the graph below, the opposite occurs. These results were collected from 46,237 leaders, 30,372 who were males and 15,838 who were females. Females seem to level off at age 40 on this capability while males, unfortunately, continue to decline. Is it possible that the phrase, “Grumpy old men” is correct? There is a strong connection between energy and inspiration, we realize, but older leaders can have a great deal of energy. When I looked closer at the data we found that 4.6% of leaders who were rated in the top 10% on inspiration were male 61 and over and 6.2% were female 61 and over.

Age and gender do not control a person’s ability to inspire. We believe that any person who is willing to work on improvement can be more inspiring. The reality is that it takes more effort and energy to be inspiring. It is easier, of course, to just tell other people what to do and then expect you will get fantastic results.

Age and Inspiring Others

What can I do to be more inspiring?

Often when I show leaders this data I hear them say, “But I am not the inspirational type.” They assume that being inspiring is more about genetics than a learned behavior. However, I am firmly convinced that every leader can improve their ability to inspire.

The problem that occurs when people want to become more inspiring is that they have no clue what to do. They look at leaders who inspire and find it extremely difficult to model the inspirational speeches or pep talks they may see. Our research at Zenger Folkman, however, has shown that being “charismatic” is not the only approach to inspiring others. In a past Forbes blog, I discussed in detail the different approaches to becoming a more inspiring leader.

Employees need to be pushed, but they equally need to be pulled. It takes more time. It takes energy, It takes more effort. But the results will be worth it.

-Joe Folkman

(This article first appeared on Forbes.)

Connect with Joe Folkman on LinkedIn, Twitter,  or Facebook.
Learn more about Zenger Folkman’s 360-Degree Assessments and leadership development workshops on our website. Register for this month’s leadership webinar hosted by Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman.

Other Articles and Podcasts

Episode 15: The Science Behind What Inspiring Leaders Do

The 90th Percentile- Episode. 15 Inspiring Leader