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Inspiring Leaders are made of…

Author: Mark Smith

I gave my father a biography of Winston Churchill for his birthday.  It is a tome, so he felt it may be a chore and did not begin reading it immediately.  However, yesterday he was reading it and began to share what he had learned from the first few chapters. Mr Churchill read a great deal, had an incredible ability to memorise and could repeat speeches, even poetry verbatim years later.


This got me thinking about Inspiring Leaders and the characteristics that make them exceptional.

When we witness a personally inspired leader, we feel a genuine connection. Think Martin Luther King.  He was a man on a mission. Whether with him or against him, you could not deny the fervour and power of his mission. It poured out of him; he was at one with his purpose. His passion inspired millions and continues to do so to this day.


The very nature of being human is that we are conditioned to judge our leaders.  We expect them to set an example and administer their responsibilities successfully. We see their foibles and errors. The human brain is an exception seeking machine. We mentally hold them to account in our urgent call for true leaders to show up and be trustworthy.

Our value sets mean we will be inspired by leaders who cause a resonance in us

We are inspired by traits, abilities and achievements which we treasure and aspire to.  Something we can aim for to improve our performance. Something that forces us to dig into our skills, abilities and character to find the inspiration we need. You see, inspiration is a very personal thing.  What lights my fire will be different from what lights yours.


We agree on certain values based on our conditioning.  Therefore, some leadership traits are inspiring to many.  Overcoming adversity, standing up for a humanitarian cause, or showing up in service of others.  These things move something within us, something intangible; and we find ourselves feeling inspired.

I have chosen 6 powerful leadership messages which inspired me; and align with my approach to life and leadership.


The first example is from my Dad reading to me about Sir Winston Churchill.

Believe in yourself

Total self-belief leads us to reap the rewards we deserve.  We are inspired by others who do not waver; who conquer themselves and their circumstances. The amazing thing about Churchill, is that he had the ability to keep moving forward, steadfastly believing in his vision and his own ability to manifest it. This gave him the aura of invincibility.


Another leadership characteristic which is admirable and inspiring I have seen in South Africa’s Mr Nelson Mandela. 

Have a Bigger Reason

I was there when he was released. I watched him give his inaugural speech post his release in Cape Town, tears running down my cheeks. Mandela was a man for and of the people.  He gave us all hope and brought us all together with his words and passion about justice, peace and human dignity. What stood out was that we would make it work for our country, for the good of our future, for a Rainbow Nation we could create for our children. He never once made it about him. The world listened and millions were moved.


Leaders who inspire us are able to seemingly keep it together. They remain calm in difficult circumstances.

Be calm under pressure

A leader who keeps calm in the face of an onslaught is impressive to most of us who would have an emotive response. Barack Obama said he was a better president in his second term as he learned to focus on the task at hand and not his performance of that task. He would become an expert at tackling large, complex problems. This enabled him to concentrate on the game, not the scoreboard.  Seeing him ably take pressure and return it with a smile, caused so many to believe in him. “Yes, we can” rang in millions of minds.


Then there are leaders who inspire us with their ability to just achieve the most incredible things which most of us could not even conceive. 

Aim for the stars

Elon Musk recently launched a rocket into space, through his company SpaceX as you are aware.  His incredible vision and audacity to think a private company could own that space (pun intended), is so awe inspiring. We watched and felt the butterflies as Crew Dragon launched into the atmosphere.  When leaders do extraordinary, seemingly impossible things, it causes us to challenge our self-limiting beliefs.  We expand our own universes when leaders show us the way.


The absolute ‘fly in the face of convention’ leader, the innovator who simply makes his or her own rules has always been a beacon for millions of entrepreneurs and businesspeople. Especially those who felt constrained by the system. 

Let people be your primary focus

The fact that Sir Richard Branson started an airline is grand enough.  Yet, when he took on British Airways and won, it was a game changer.  He makes his own rules, whilst managing the down-side.  His extraordinary achievements allow us to extend our reach beyond our grasp.  The aspect which has ensured his ongoing success has been his obsession with creating a people led organisation. Where there is freedom to create your own career, where you are heard and where you matter.  He created a following of inspired and committed team members at every level.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Lastly, I would like to pay homage to the front line workers during this pandemic.  There has been untold heroism in the face of enormous personal risk.  So many examples of servant leadership have inspired nations to think of others before themselves.  This leadership has been a causative factor in families, where children are learning the value of being of service.  Selflessness has become revered.  The men and women at the front line deserve to be applauded and honoured for their considerable skill and yet it is their attitude which stands out for me for they knew the dangers and stepped into the fray.  On the other side of fear is where success lies.  So, thank you to those superb leaders who put ‘we’ before ‘I’.

In closing…

This is a time for true inspiring leaders to emerge. Your organisation’s future will depend on how your people respond to the challenges they face. Take on the responsibility for how people in your team feel about their future, about their prospects, about their advancement. Your primary job as a leader is not operational; it is people.

I believe that if we become better at self-mastery, show up every day on mission and keep influencing those around us positively, we will be better leaders and the world will evolve as a result. 


My six inspiring leadership messages:


  1. Believe in yourself
  2. Have a bigger purpose and mission permanently in mind
  3. Stay calm through practice, attitude and self-awareness
  4. Aim for huge goals which scare and excite you
  5. Make people your priority
  6. Make fear your inspiration

Leaders take ownership for the footprints left behind.  Our leadership is our legacy.

Watch Mark’s Chat with Matt here: