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Seb Anthony

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What do we mean by Inspirational Leadership?


As part of my dissertation for a masters degree, I am investigating what people consider to be the key differences between what makes a 'good leader' and what makes an 'inspirational leader'. It seems that although many companies I have been in contact with talk about develping Inspirational Leaders, they struggle to define or measure what they mean and there seems to be very little written about it in the academic world. If anyone has any information or references on Inspirational Leaership or would like to offer me examples of what they would consider the differences to be, I would be grateful
Andrew Hayward

4 Responses

  1. Read Good to Great by Jim Collins.
    His research showed him that the people we traditionally associate with inspirational leadership are not actually very good for the organisation.

    The charismatic ego centred leaders who are in our face with fantastic turnarounds and performance improvements, drive performance through the force of their personality.
    When they move on the organisation they leave behind collapses because their force of personality has ridden roughshod over the rest of the organisation.
    As a result the other members of the organisation have learned to do only what they are told and have stopped thinking for themselves.

    When the charismatic personality leaves, the organisation has no direction or initiative and as a consequence flounders.

    Jim identified that the truly great leader was the one that you barely notice.
    He is the man who is humble and self effacing.
    He spends his time allowing others to take the credit, building the strength and confidence of the other individuals in the organisation such that instead of being driven towards performance from the one individual at the top, these truly great leaders allow the organisation to drive itself from within.

    When these inspirational leaders leave hardly anybody notices that they have gone.

    Except perhaps for the business analysts who comment smugly that he can’t have had much of an effect because even when he has gone the organisation that he left still continues to be the best.

    We know what the effect of the different types of leader is.

    Which one do you want to run your organisation is the real question?

  2. inspirational leadership is leadership
    The language of leadership is permeated with fantasies of potency & domination. To inspire (transitive), like the verbs ‘engage’ or ‘motivate’ in the prevailing rhetoric, conceals an intention hardly less managerial & instrumental than the verb ‘to control’.

    Jim Collins’s humble leader is only a variation on the theme. Inspiration is no more measurable than that other corrupted thing ‘passion’. I hope your essay will address the nature of the projections and transferences implied in the word inspire and not accept at face value the profoundly uncritical popular literature of leadership.

    Try Calas & Smircich or, for an altogether different perspective, Revd. Bruce Reed on roles and organisational transformation. (Calas, M. B.; Smircich, L. (1992) Re-writing Gender into Organisational Theorising: Directions from Feminist Perspectives.)

  3. Thanks for your comments
    Thaks for your comments, I will indeed look again into my copies of Jim Collins’ books. The important part for me to investigate is how easily the terms are used by HR departments and consultants with very little agreement or support from academics. I do feel that some are really looking at ‘charismatic leadership’ and for others it is simply the distancing process and mythical ideas of leadership that consitute an ‘IL’. But what are training courses and development of IL’s aiming to achieve, are people wasting time trying to develop skills or techniques that are not relevent? This seems to be the new ‘buzzword’ in a lot of pretty big organisations and I’m really not sure how robust it is, it is worth a lot of money though!


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