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Executive Insight

Leadership Is About Emotion

Think of 3 leaders that you most inspire you. They may be from any industry in business, or perhaps politics or a historical leader. Studies show that you hold them in high regard not just because of what they have achieved, but by who they are. In truth, all 3 of the leaders you who most inspire you touch you on an emotional level.

Emotions developed in our evolutionary biology millions of years before our rational, cognitive brain developed, which is why those who touch us on an emotional level continue to, and always will do, set themselves apart as leaders.

And our emotions go far deeper than this. Studies over the 1980’s and 1990’s by Giacomo Rizzolatti and his team found that when the brain activity of monkeys was monitored they recorded a “mirror neuron”. He had discovered that when monkeys

observed a particular behaviour they would also copy it. And it included emotions also.

Emotions Affect Performance

So, by proxy if an employee observes a negative behaviour by someone in an authoritative position they are more likely to mirror these behaviours. The opposite is also true, if an employee is affected by someone who inspires them they will also

be more predetermined to also inspire others.

This can be true both internal and external to the organisation. This has been described as the Inspiration Economy in a previous post.

The question remains – how do you inspire others as a leader?

Unfortunately there is much confusion and anecdotal thinking by those who should really know better.

Let’s be clear on one thing – inspiring and motivating others are vastly different.

Inspiration is the psychological trigger that kickstarts a series of actions either within ourselves or by others. It is fundamentally different to motivation and is incorrectly used interchangeably. Motivation is a set of behaviours that are exhibited by people and lead them to reach their destination (if at all).

One of the biggest obstacles that leaders face is that they inherit teams or hire those who are motivated but not inspired.

The difference in the workforce is considerable.

Your inspired workforce will work longer, harder, be more effective, creative in their problem solving. They will seek out solutions to challenges independently of permissions.

The motivated workforce will achieve results but as soon as obstacles arise they will struggle. They will look to you for answers. They have a higher propensity to blame others when things go wrong.

Hardwired To Be Inspired

The reason is in how our brain processes information.

The inspired brain starts off with a collection of information with no clear connections. It is the equivalent of a dot to dot puzzle that we used to play when we were children. Our brain is constantly trying to make sense of the world and is trying to join those dots. In neuroscience terms we are talking of neurons trying to form synaptic nerves between each other.

Then suddenly our brain is able to draw a line between two, seemingly independent, pieces of information. Once this has happened our brain is developed a new skill. It then tries to repeat this and looks for a second piece of information. Suddenly it finds it. The brain is learning. And soon everything becomes clear. All the seemingly random pieces of information make sense and join together beautifully.

That is inspiration.

The motivated brain is a different machine. Your brain is presented with the same different pieces of information but instead of allowing the brain to learn and develop the skill of connecting the dots the connections are shown. The brain can be lazy and will wait for the next connection to be shown to it.

The difference is obvious, once the brain has developed the ability to create connections and it is hungry to repeat the process. The untrained brain, in contrast, remains idle, waiting to be given the answer and shown what to do next.

So when obstacles arise, when challenges occur there is no learned skill that can be relied on to solve whatever situation is presented.

The challenge with leaders is to enable and empower their employees to develop inspired thinking to overcome any obstacles.In truth, the best leaders know that they do not have all the answers. But they are highly skilled at asking the right questions to get the answers they need – not necessarily want.

Emotions Are Contagious

The best side-effect of inspirational leadership is that the positive emotion generated as a result of creating inspiration in the minds of others leads to marked improved levels of productivity, effectiveness, innovation, increase revenue and employee engagement.

To facilitate this process leaders may know how to solve a problem. They may have the answer. But that will leave the organisation in a state of over dependency. The mission of the leader is to lead others to be greater than they are. That is where immortality lays.


Ross Kingsland

Communication Strategist | Inspiration Engineer |