A role model leader is an optimist, always looking forward, always seeking a better future state. The current state is important, but as the ground for formulating and launching new directions.
“Future looking” includes the natural or learned capacity to think in the long term – from ive to as many as twenty years forward. That is so far into the future that it is a dificult to be speciic, so the role model leader will often describe a concept to his followers but not its details. His vision or aspiration is clear enough to provide direction but not speciic enough to allow instruction. So he describes the future in terms that, while deliberately vague, are clear enough to be perceived as possible. Too many details would be counterproductive, for the followers would tend to respond by focusing on the pros and cons of implementation rather than on the potential, future holds. The role model leader wants to express to his followers that their world can be better, not to describe what to do to get there. He wants to make it clear to them how much promise the future holds, not what the future will be in detail.
Some people use the past to extrapolate the future. If as an engineer you have had ive years of relative calm in manufacturing process variables, then the “planner” in you will often predict the same for the next one to three years, with minor variations. The reason for this conservative approach to planning is to avoid failure. Managers are often risk averse because their job is to control situations. When managers think ahead, it is in terms of recent past experience.
The role model leader, by contrast, focuses on the better future, not on the ongoing current state, which is where managers “live.” In part one, I distinguished between aspirational and visionary and planning future state thinking. Each type of thinking is important and needs to be learned by the aspiring role model leader. In terms of levels of thought, the irst is more of a belief; the second, a concept; the third, much less future oriented and more a managing action. The beneit of focusing on the future state is that it enables followers to see a better future. The leader can then inluence people to develop paths to achieve that future state.
The ability to inspire others is arguably the most important character attribute of role model leaders. Inspiring is an action word – perhaps the most positive of all action words.
Inspiring others is a positive, energy-building action. In some ways, it is like teaching people to breathe. The only difference is that breathing is a natural action, whereas inspiring others is a deliberate one. When we are inspired by others, we are moved to believe in those individuals, their messages, their beliefs. That is inspiration's power. The leadership attributes that are capable of inspiring others include the following:
• Willingness to work for a cause.
• Positive emotion, passion for something.
• Energizing others to work for a cause.
• In dificult times, working to create a more positive future while communicating a message of “we will succeed.”
• A history of success at leading positive change, especially during dificult times.
It is important to recognize the difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is something we all have; it is what pushes us to do things. Inspiration is the ability to dramatically inluence others, to convince people to be passionate about positive change. How do we learn the character attribute of inspiring others? The above list suggests where we can start, for all of its items can be learned and practised.
The capacity to inspire others is best developed by experiencing and observing a model. Make a list of exemplary leaders or persons who have inspired you and who have inluenced others to make signiicant change in their world. I have already spoken about Kalev Pugi, who was the most inspirational person I have ever worked with. In the ield of engineering, the project of landing a man on the moon was, I would argue, the most inspirational project in modern history. It inspired countless people around the world to engage in careers in science and engineering. Neil Armstrong, an aerospace engineer, and Buzz Aldren, a mechanical engineer, became heroes. These two men were engineer-astronauts, not test pilot-astronauts. Flying spacecraft had become a technology assignment.
There will be inspirational leaders and teams in your own environment who can serve as models for you – people you can observe and study directly. Seek them out in order to learn from them. How do they approach people?
How do they talk to individuals? When do they gather people together for communication? How do they decide when to act? There is plenty that can be learned from inspirational leaders whom you actually know.