The Stark Contrast: Uninspiring vs. Inspiring Leadership

September 19, 2023

Uninspiring Leadership

“Be an inspiring leader.” This advice resonates often and for good reasons. The distinction between “Uninspiring Leadership” and “Inspiring Leadership” isn’t just about charisma. Research reveals that the capacity to inspire and uplift others is the top competency that sets apart subpar leaders from exemplary ones, playing a crucial role in determining high employee engagement.

Our dedicated team at Zenger Folkman has consistently collaborated with leaders, aiding them in bolstering their “Inspiring Leadership” qualities. Yet, every so often, we’re met with retorts like, “Inspiring? That’s not me,” or “I don’t see myself as a cheerleader.”

Here’s the thing: the realm of Inspiring Leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Leaders can inspire in myriad ways, each authentic to their style. We’re clear on why leaders should inspire, but what about the converse? What’s the fallout of “Uninspiring Leadership”?

The Detrimental Ripple of Uninspiring Leaders

Surprisingly, not everyone is adept at this essential skill. To shed light on the consequences of uninspiring leadership, a study was conducted to categorize and evaluate such leaders.

By definition, an “uninspiring leader” was one who was rated by managers, peers, direct reports, and other colleagues at or below the 10th percentile in their ability to inspire and motivate. The results of the study were rather startling.

Stats for Uninspiring Leaders

  • The overall rating of leadership effectiveness for these uninspiring leaders was in the 9th percentile.
  • Furthermore, only a mere 2.6% of leaders with this significant flaw were highly engaged in their own work.
  • The ripple effect of their lackluster leadership was evident, as the average engagement level of their direct reports languished at the 23rd percentile.
  • Even more concerning was the revelation that a whopping 47% of these direct reports contemplated quitting.

From the data, it’s evident that uninspiring leadership isn’t benign. Such leaders dent an organization, eroding engagement and amplifying employee attrition. Their repercussions aren’t limited to the teams they manage; these leaders often face negative reviews, slim promotion chances, and seldom achieve high-performance ratings. But here’s the silver lining: even a moderate enhancement in their leadership abilities can change these stats significantly.

Six Practical Steps Towards Cultivating Inspiring Leadership

1. Adopt a Positive Mindset: Your attitude at work is palpable and contagious. Showing up with a positive, engaged demeanor can drastically alter team dynamics.

2. Opt for Positive Interactions: A simple smile or a greeting can make an interaction positive. Aim for numerous such positive exchanges daily.

3. Keep the Communication Lines Open: One hallmark of “Inspiring Leadership” is consistent communication. An informed team is less likely to view their leader as uninspiring.

4. Foster Growth: Helping team members or peers acquire new skills isn’t just about professional growth; it’s a testament to “Inspiring Leadership.” Understand their goals and facilitate their skill development journey.

5. Be the Standard: In the duel of “Uninspiring Leadership” vs. “Inspiring Leadership,” walking the talk is paramount. Authenticity demands not expecting anything from your team that you wouldn’t do.

6. Nurture a Cohesive Team Culture: A harmonious team is magnetic. Quell conflicts swiftly and engage in team-building exercises to boost camaraderie.

Concluding, while not every leader might reach the zenith of inspirational leadership, each can certainly be effective at inspiring. The key lies in molding and expressing this quality authentically. After all, in our quest to impact the world positively, a dash of inspiration is indispensable.

-Joe Folkman, President of Zenger Folkman 

Research was originally posted on 

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