Why do so many of my clients seek to be more inspirational as leaders? Why do they think they aren’t inspirational enough? Why do they get that sort of feedback? And – since the foundation of inspirational leadership is being personally inspired – why are these smart, accomplished leaders not inspired people?
Many good leaders have let their personal inspiration slip. Some have become downright depressed. We live in tough times, sure, but there are always problems to solve and difficulties to face. When you were an emerging leader, you jumped out there with enthusiasm and inspiration, and you relished the opportunity to help save the day. What happened to that inspiration? If you’re like many of my clients, you’ve developed the habit of looking for problems to solve – of finding what’s bad about a situation and searching out solutions. And over time, that can be toxic. A steady diet of problems can take up so much space inside your soul that it pushes out all that good inspiration you once enjoyed.
In the first part of this series, I talked about planting the seeds for personal inspiration… about beginning to take a positive view of the people you know, the society of which you’re a part, the place in which you choose to live. Next, to keep yourself inspired, you need to develop habits which bring balance to what you put into your mind and heart. You need to make it your goal to stay inspired; it should be part of your professional practice as a leader. Here are four practices to start with.
What do you read? If you read a newspaper or professional journal, your brain is getting a steady diet of problems. Balance that by adding some inspiring stuff to your reading list. I know, it’s hard to find the time… but I try to read inspiring stories and novels to balance what I read in the newspaper. Here’s a tip: since your reading time is limited, avoid stuff that doesn’t really inspire you, even if you’ve enjoyed it. When I was younger, I read all the novels by one of my favorite writers, a famous horror novelist. I appreciated the wordcraft, and I relished the pulse-pounding thrill of each read… but the books left me with bad, ugly feelings that didn’t contribute to my overall mindset of inspiration. If you have plenty of time to read, fine… mix it up, and read upbeat stories alongside the slasher novels. But if time’s limited, like it is for most leaders, remember that you get plenty of “horror stories” during your day job, and balance that with stories (and authors) that lift your spirits.
What do you write? Many of my clients, whether they own a business or not, never write anything but emails and memos that deal with the world of problem-solving. For balance, try keeping a journal, and re-read the stuff you write each day. If you’re feeling the need for more inspiration, note the tone of your journal: is it upbeat, or is it a rehashing of all the difficulties you’ve faced? It’s OK if there’s a mix of stuff in there, but make sure some of what you write is the result of an effort to appreciate the good, inspiring things that happen to you every day.
What do you watch? Again, balance the depressing stuff (“news” programs, documentaries, or scary movies) with things you know will give you a lift. What’s your favorite positive movie? Watch it again, even if you know how it ends. Because guess what: the recorded film may not have changed, but you have, and that means the movie “ends” differently – in terms of the feeling it leaves you with – every time you watch it.
What do you listen to? I’m guilty of over-consuming the troubling messages from hours of talk radio every day. I need that stuff to stay smart about what’s going on in my world… but I make it a point to balance it by listening to music that inspires me, every single day. A few years ago my leadership mission took me to the employ of a newspaper. Again, people open the paper to read what’s wrong with their world… so a news organization is not typically a bastion of inspiration. But I made it a practice to stay inspired by giving my ears a daily reminder of the inspiration I got from my other career, as a musical-theater actor. I got up early every morning and listened to an upbeat cast album on my headphones before heading into work. And it gave me the inspiration I needed to slay the dragons of my everyday work life.
What works for me might not work for you… but find something that will. Balance what you put into your mind and heart, and avoid a steady diet of uninspiring problems and difficulties. You might need to be a realist, and you might fancy yourself as a practical person. As such (and many of my clients are kindred spirits), you’d think it was “unrealistic” to see life through rose-colored glasses, and you might lose respect for a person you perceive as being overly positive. But remember: life isn’t all bad, either. Failure to put positive stuff into your brain, and to try to live on a constant stream of problems and negativity, is just as unrealistic. It’s unworthy of you. And it sure won’t make you an inspirational leader.