Jory MacKay
Jory is a writer, content strategist and award-winning editor of the Unsplash Book. He contributes to Inc., Fast Company, Quartz, and more.
June 06, 2023 · 11 min read

How to inspire your team like the best leaders do

How to inspire your team like the best leaders do

The best leaders do more than just plan projects and assign tasks - they inspire their team to do great work by taking the time to build trust and show respect. Unfortunately, being “inspirational” isn’t as clear cut as other project management skills.

It’s all too easy to come across as insincere, or worse, like you’re trying to manipulate or persuade your team into doing things they don’t want to (such as working long hours and hitting burnout).

But being inspirational doesn’t need to be solely the domain of world leaders and TV football coaches. With a few simple changes to your leadership style, you can gain the trust of your team and inspire them towards greatness.

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In this guide, we’ll explain what it takes to inspire your team the right way - by building a foundation of mutual trust, respect, and hard work - with examples and tips you can start using today.

The 4 foundations of being an inspirational leader

When it comes to team motivation, there are two schools of thought. Either you need to influence and persuade your team through questionable tactics like rewards and workplace culture or politics. Or, you need to inspire them through words alone.

But while this can sound like influence and inspiration are significantly different, they’re really just two sides of the same coin.

At its very core, influence is simply the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something.

Or, as author Rory Vaden puts it:

Influence is the ability to inspire action.

If a leader or manager has great influence, those around them actually want to follow them, not just follow because they’re told to.

Where most leaders go wrong, however, is in not doing the groundwork to be influential or inspirational. They assume that because their words don’t work or their team doesn’t instantly follow their commands, that they need to resort to toxic persuasion tactics or worse - fear and anger.

But before you can be an inspiration to your team, you need to prove to them that you’re worth following.

Here are the four foundations of being an inspirational team leader:

These foundations don’t just apply to leaders, either. Anyone can grow their career by becoming an inspiration to their team, company, and peers.

Do’s and don’ts of inspiring your team the right way

Unfortunately, many people get the influence/inspiration-building process wrong. And when they do, it’s not just them that suffers, but their entire team.

Bad leaders often lean too heavily on one of the four foundations of inspiration. The most common scenarios are either focusing too much on building influence and relationships with people above them (and leaving their teams overworked and stranded without support), or glossing over the trust-building process without really listening to their team.

Instead, to be an inspirational leader, it takes an almost perfect balance of all four foundations. This means having an exceptional level of empathy, leadership skills, and time management.

As you go down your own path towards becoming a great leader, here are a few critical do’s and don’ts you should try to follow:

👍 Do 👎 Don’t
Build authentic relationships with the people you work with. Create one-way or manipulative relationships that only benefit you.
Show that you listen and care about what your teammates say. Use “I” too much when talking to your team or about ideas.
Be open to hearing constructive criticism and improving on your weaknesses. Close yourself off to criticism or outrightly dismiss constructive feedback.
Stay consistent in your approach and support those around you to build trust. Be flaky. If you’re unreliable, people won’t trust you or follow you.
Invest in building your own expertise. The best way to inspire is to be inspirational. Get lazy and think you know everything. Those who inspire are lifelong learners.
Bring others with you on the journey. The best leaders are those who build others up. Push people aside or use them solely to progress your own career.
Work on your body language to convey a confident and approachable demeanor. Close yourself off from others, either in your approach or your attitude.

While many of the do’s may sound like common sense, it really isn’t hard to accidentally overdo it and turn yourself into a tyrant.

Most importantly, remember that becoming inspirational takes time. If you try and speed it up, you’re more likely to get it wrong and come across as insincere.

9 ways to inspire your team (with examples)

While building influence takes time, the good news is there are some tried and tested tactics to help you position yourself well with those around you.

Before you can be an inspiration to your team, you need to prove to them that you’re worth following.

Here are 9 ways to build your influence in the workplace, which, if you execute well, will help you stand out from the crowd.

1. Share your vision and goals

While “being inspirational” may conjure up images of generals firing up their soldiers before sending them marching into the unknown, this couldn’t be further from reality.

In the workplace, inspiration requires transparency and openness. If your team doesn’ know where they’re going, they’re not going to feel confident - or inspired - by anything you say.

The unfortunate truth is that only 47% of employees can make a connection between their daily duties and company performance.

Instead, you need to share not only your company’s larger goals and visions, but your own as well.

How to share your company and personal vision the right way:

Gantt Chart showing current progress of issues

2. Practice active listening

Active listening is the practice of blocking out the millions of other things going on in your mind and environment to focus on the person that’s right in front of you.

People are more likely to trust and follow you if you respect their opinions. Rather than imposing your ideas on them, show that you actively consider what they’re saying and put their feedback into action. In the future, they’ll be more likely to do the same for you.

Here are a few tips that can help you become a better active listener:

3. Become a logical problem solver

Teams will feel inspired when you show your own skills and value to the organization. One of the best ways to do this is to get good at solving problems.

People who can understand challenges, overcome obstacles, and help drive the team forward find it easier to build trust and authority within others. In turn, this helps you become an inspiration as you become the go-to problem solver in the team.

Your team will feel inspired when you show your own skills and value to the organization.

Here are some practical ways to become a strong problem solver:

4. Use emotional intelligence to make friends, not colleagues

To really create meaningful influence, you need to build relationships that go beyond the workplace.

Inspiration and influence are underpinned by trust. To build it, you need to connect with those around you on a deeper level.

This takes time as you understand others, their ambitions, and what makes them tick. This doesn’t mean you need to go for dinner and drinks every night. Instead, it means leveraging your emotional intelligence and learning what really makes the people around you tick.

Use emotional intelligence to make friends, not colleagues

Here are a few ways to build better relationships through emotional intelligence:

5. Let your actions speak louder than your words

People trust those with a track record of delivering. If you want to be an inspiration, it pays to get a reputation as someone who gets the job done simply and effectively. Show that you’re more than just a task manager and can get your hands dirty when needed.

Here are a few tips to help you get things done:

6. Be reliable and trustworthy

Those that build respect and trust do so by turning up and being consistent each and every day.

If you want to build influence within the team, it pays to become known as Mr. or Mrs. Reliable. If people know they can count on you, they’ll trust you for support, leadership, and guidance, helping you work your way into a position of influence.

Here’s how to show that you’re reliable and trustworthy in the workplace:

7. Swap aggression for assertiveness

While being inspirational requires collaboration and working well with others, it also relies on showing leadership and taking control of your team.

Those who want to get ahead often need to take the initiative and show that they have what it takes to lead the team forwards. Working on your assertiveness and confidence is the best way to do this, so long as you don’t tip into coming across as aggressive.

Here are some practical ways to become more assertive:

8. Create a healthy work environment

You may not want to believe it, but in most cases, your workplace environment has more impact on your team’s motivation and productivity than you do. Creating a culture that is open and transparent, based on trust, and truly cares about the well-being of your teammates can give you a solid foundation on which to inspire them every single day.

Create a healthy work environment

Here are a few ways to create a better, more inspirational work environment:

9. Promote the team, then yourself

If you want to build the most influence with your colleagues while gaining their respect and trust, learn to promote others and bring them on the journey with you.

The world’s best leaders don’t just focus on themselves, but on those around them as well. When presented with an opportunity to showcase your success, use that platform to also highlight the work of those around you.

No one likes the person willing to step on others to get ahead, so instead, be the purpose who takes others with them.

If you want to build influence by helping those around you, try:

How to inspire your team when you work remotely

There’s no denying that inspiration comes much easier when you’re in person and can see and feel the people around you. But in today’s world, with many teams going fully remote or using a hybrid work model, it can be harder to build that connection.

Whether you’re managing remote teams or simply working within one, here are some quick tips to help you build influence remotely:

Influence and inspiration come down to trust - not persuasion

As a leader, one of the best ways to deliver great results, get ahead, and reach your goals is to become an inspiration to those around you. But this only happens if you build it the right way - through mutual respect, trust, and hard work.

Take the time to set a solid foundation, and then take time to connect with your team. The more they get to know you, the company, and your goals, the more inspired they’ll feel as you lead them towards greatness.

And for added help, use Planio to make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them and where you’re going. Planio combines smart task management with powerful project management and communications tools to keep your team inspired, motivated, and informed.

Try Planio free for 30 days - no credit card required.