Dr Susanne Braun, senior lecturer in leadership at Durham University, offers advice on how business leaders can enthuse people.
Dr Susanne Braun
President Obama polarised people recently when he spoke about gun control and welled up as he recalled the 2012 massacre at a school in Connecticut. In previous speeches on the subject he had come across as quite leader-like – independent, strong and decisive, while also somewhat cool and unemotional – and that is what makes him imperious and enthusing.
In this instance, he didn’t change what he said but how he said it. His approach to presenting himself altered and he seemed to transmit something of powerlessness or being vulnerable. Some people seemed to feel uncomfortable with him violating his leadership role of being strong and independent, and being somewhat inconsistent with the way that he usually presents himself.
Business leaders can learn a lot from this. We have implicit leadership theories and we compare them to a stereotype of what good leadership is. If there is a mismatch, you might get people questioning whether you are authentic. That is extremely powerful because it influences how much trust others will put in you.
It is crucial to devote your actions to a shared mission and then act consistently in line with that mission yourself as a leader. You then need to keep followers’ interpretations of your actions in mind, and be able to create an image of yourself where you are seen as warm but also strong, and with the ability and power to follow through on what you have promised you are going to do.
The good news is that leadership and enthusing people as part of leadership are things that must be learned and trained. Authentic leadership develops through experience and self-reflection.
The most powerful consequences of being able to enthuse people is that you gain trust and loyalty. If people trust you, they will support you even in difficult times and in challenging situations. They will support you throughout the working relationship, including giving you feedback and speaking up for you in front of others.
This article was first published in People Management magazine (February 2016 edition).