If you talk to employees at companies like Apple and Virgin they will be fantastic ambassadors for the companies they work for. There will be many factors as to why organisations drive high engagement and achieve cultural ambition; but a critical part of achieving such a level of employee loyalty is through inspirational leadership.
When I talk about inspirational leadership; I am looking at leaders throughout an organisation. There is a very clear link between the presence and personality of the CEO at the two organisations I have mentioned; but ultimately every manager within an organisation can provide inspiration to employees.
Steve Jobs at Apple was perhaps one of the most inspiring leaders of the 21st Century. His passion for innovation was at the heart of Apple’s resurgence; and by creating a culture where employees felt empowered to ‘try something new’, ‘do things differently’ and ‘think creatively’ without fear of failure Apple has become one of the most profitable brand’s in the world.
That cultural ambition is a legacy to Jobs and what he achieved. It is also a case in point for CEO’s that if they stamp a personality on a business it can act as a catalyst for engagement.
Another excellent example is Richard Branson at Virgin. Branson in many ways is an architect of the entrepreneurial culture that organisations strive for but are sometimes afraid to embrace. As an entrepreneur Branson has had his fair share of successes and failures; but his desire to dust himself down and move on to the next project after each failure is what makes him successful.
There is a common theme: those leaders that come from an entrepreneurial background have that ability to be inspirational leaders. It is a secret ingredient; but two of the qualities that they have are to not be afraid of failure, and to listen and converse with their people. The recognition that employees are the primary assets within your business is one of the first steps to becoming an inspirational leader.
In the latest ForbesTop100 companies to work for Google was number one. Google is another company built upon entrepreneurial roots; it engages its employees as it fosters a culture that encourages innovation and conversation.
So how do you take this formula into an organisation that has its foundations set in a corporate environment? It isn’t easy to create an entrepreneurial culture in a hierarchical business. The flatter the management structure, the smaller the link between the top and the bottom person in an organisation, the easier it is to be an inspiring leader that will drive engagement.
I am a passionate believer in creating a culture that encourages free thinking and innovation. So many businesses fall into the trap of an environment of ‘blame’ that it acts as a barrier for people to try something different for fear of failure. That blame culture and hierarchical business structure are two huge barriers to creating a business that encourages innovation.
To empower your leaders to be inspiring you need to give them the tools to be able to do so. Those tools can be built into your values and your performance management policy; but inspirational leadership will always begin at the top of a business. I am a firm believer that Internal Communications can play a part in supporting business leaders to inspire.
Whilst the personality of your leaders is important: how you manage the perception and position your leaders within your business will influence employees. A very small detail on positioning could be hosting a webcast with your CEO minus jacket and tie; creating a more informal, relaxed environment where people relate to the message and the person.
I believe that those businesses that will drive the highest employee engagement will have the right balance between a corporate and entrepreneurial culture. I also believe that to create that culture; your leaders need to inspire and to act as the champions for your cultural ambition.
It is an exciting challenge: if you have ambitions to reach the Times or Fortune Top100 companies to work for list, it is an approach that has been proven to work.