Inspirational leaders

May 31, 2024 •

7 min reading

Inspirational leaders: Who they are & How can you become one? A guide

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When discussing inspirational leaders, you probably think about household names, titans of global business, and the people you see on the front of publications like TIME magazine. But great leaders are all around us. There are supervisors and managers, senior executives and CEOs in organizations around the world who, while relatively unknown, are inspirational leaders in their own right. They instill trust, motivate others, display honesty and integrity, get results, build relationships, and care about those around them personally and professionally.

In this article, we discuss what makes an inspirational leader, consider who inspirational leaders are in terms of their characteristics, and explore the behaviors you can develop to become one.


What is an inspirational leader?

It’s a question that many people ask, but so few have the answer to.

Inspirational leaders motivate others to achieve challenging goals through their words and actions. They are confident, passionate, decisive, emotionally intelligent, and committed to guiding and developing others. They know they cannot achieve their goals alone, so they focus on bringing the best out of others by giving them purpose, fulfillment, and rewards.

In a workplace context, inspirational leaders have the power to foster high-performing teams and steer organizations to sustained success. They achieve this by increasing performance, reducing employee turnover, improving the company culture, and enhancing employee and customer satisfaction. A study by Harvard Business School found that inspirational leaders create higher levels of employee commitment and engagement. Furthermore, research from Bain revealed that ‘inspired’ employees are twice as productive as ‘satisfied’ employees and create companies that are 21% more profitable and have 59% less staff turnover. This underscores the crucial role of inspirational leadership in organizational success.

The good news for those who aspire to develop their leadership skills is that the characteristics and behaviors of inspirational leaders can be cultivated, honed, and mastered. While some individuals may possess innate leadership abilities, the traits of inspirational leaders are 24% genetic and 76% learned. This means that with experience and professional development, you have the potential to learn and enhance these behaviors, leading to personal growth and professional success.

MBA in Hospitality  Apply new strategies and tools in the workplace  Designed to accommodate busy hospitality professionals, our MBA in hospitality  is delivered 80% online  Discover

Who are the inspiring leaders?

We all know examples of famous inspiring leaders, the sort you’ll find in dozens of lists across the internet. Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Sheryl Sandberg are common examples. Let’s delve deeper into their characteristics and qualities to understand what makes them inspirational.

Data from a 2013 Harvard Business Review study found that 16 leadership competencies appeared most frequently. Of those, the ability to inspire generates the highest level of employee commitment and engagement. But what does this ability look like in practice?

According to the research, inspirational leaders are the people who:

  • Spend time developing the skills and careers of their subordinates
  • Engage in highly collaborative behavior
  • Care as much about people as they do about the business
  • Encourage and value input from everyone on the team
  • Seek to learn from others as well as teach
  • Encourage their employees to be creative and innovative and to share their ideas freely
  • Are effective communicators who dedicate time to understanding the views and perspectives of others
  • Have emotional intelligence that allows them to build close work relationships
  • Are champions of change with a clear vision for the future


Most importantly, research suggests that being an inspirational leader is more about exhibiting these traits than having a particular personality type. You might assume that inspirational leaders must be outgoing, charismatic, and extroverted, but more introverted leaders can be just as inspirational. It’s purely down to the behaviors you exhibit, and the more of these behaviors a leader exhibits, the more people perceive them as inspirational. This highlights that anyone, regardless of their personality type, has the potential to become an inspirational leader.


How to become an inspiring leader?

Some people are born with natural leadership abilities that they can enhance through training. However, the behaviors that make leaders inspirational can also be developed and learned. But where should you start?

Develop your emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is one of the fundamental qualities of an inspiring leader. Emotionally intelligent leaders can build strong relationships, create more inclusive work environments, and foster greater team engagement and commitment. Studies have found that employees with emotionally intelligent managers perform at a higher level and are four times less likely to leave their jobs.

Be generous with your time

Inspiring leaders are approachable, know how to put others at ease and create environments where team members feel comfortable expressing their opinions and discussing personal and professional issues. By making time to listen, developing the habit of actually wanting to ask questions, and listening with the intent to understand rather than just reply, you’ll create a culture where employees feel heard and valued.

Be resilient

Regardless of how good a leader you are, not every day or situation will go as planned. However, being mindful of how you deal with stress, facing challenges calmly, and working with others to find solutions will help you create favorable resolutions and be noticed by your team. It will also show them that you will handle any issues or problems they raise with you correctly.

Show integrity

Inspirational leaders are honest, transparent, and always do the right thing. They never take the easy option and are prepared to answer complex questions, even if they know you may not like the answers. They also align their values with their actions and genuinely care about the well-being of their teams.

Develop others

Inspirational leaders are committed to the development of others. They go out of their way to give their teams opportunities to grow and challenge them to push outside their comfort zone. They also understand that stretching people carries a certain amount of risk, so they put safety nets in place and never blame their employees for honest mistakes.

Be passionate

Passion channeled in the right way is one of the most potent characteristics of inspiring leaders. Passionate leaders are committed to a cause and the goals they want to achieve. They approach challenges enthusiastically, are energetic, and always look for ways to improve. That type of passion is contagious and quickly spreads throughout the team.

Developing people-centric leadership skills through education

As the associate dean of graduate programs at EHL Hospitality Business School, Dr. Achim Schmitt maintains that EHL’s MBA in Hospitality focuses on developing student’s skills related to service excellence and people-centric leadership. These skills are crucial for aspiring leaders who want to inspire and guide their teams effectively.

Achim teaches students how to balance business knowledge with emotional intelligence. In an article for BusinessBecause, he outlines three main qualities that he focuses on in his work: the ability to show empathy and connect with others, encouraging creative solutions, and customer-centricity through a lens of human-centricity.


How to build emotional connection

“In an increasingly technologically driven and uncertain world, connecting emotionally with your employees will improve relationships between leaders and employees and lead to more informed business decisions. The more you depend on your employees' feedback, openness, and dedication, the more you need to be connected to them.”

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Why do your team members follow you?

Inspirational leaders create a sense of loyalty in their teams that has nothing to do with any external benefit or incentive. They follow because they want to and because they are inspired. The good news is that you can learn and develop the qualities of an inspirational leader, and the world desperately needs people willing to lead organizations and change things for the better.

If you want to develop your leadership skills with a human-centric focus, we invite you to discover the EHL Graduate School programs. With an applied focus, these programs teach you to evaluate strategic investments, company profitability, people management, and current business challenges. The course content is highly relevant for today's markets, providing you with the latest knowledge, trends, and skill-based training to enhance business success. The programs help you develop business decision-making and emotionally intelligent leadership skills, leading to greater personal fulfillment and organizational success.


Designed to accommodate busy hospitality professionals, delivered 80% online

As a student of the MBA in hospitality, you will benefit from a holistic learning experience that combines online courses with three weeks of campus-based learning.