While serving in one of my first leadership assignments, I learned some valuable lessons about what it means to inspire others. I was in my twenties when I met a very special leadership mentor. She was old enough to be my grandmother. She was quite a warrior and I watched her battle. My time with her was brief. But, the lessons she taught me and her inspiration endures. From the time I met her until I watched her transition from this life to the next, I never considered how her courage would affect my life. I carry three enduring lessons about inspiration from her influence.
First, those who inspire the most, frequently do so during times of pain. It may be counterintuitive in your leadership culture. Too often, I have fallen into the trap of looking for leadership heroes who rise above the fray rather than taking note of those who are in the trenches. Crisis reveals character. From the midst of the crucible of life, come stories of inspiration. If you are waiting for everything in life to get sorted out before you believe you can inspire others, you may very well forfeit your best opportunities to inspire others. Discover your capacity to inspire while facing your greatest challenges. You have a responsibility to share what you are learning even when your questions outnumber your answers.
Second, inspiring others requires a significant amount of vulnerability. When I experience physical pain, it is natural to recoil. When you experience leadership challenges, the innate response is withdrawal. Have you ever thought about how many inspirational opportunities are left behind while someone was waiting for the fog to clear? The quality of relationships can be deepened through trials. When you are straining under the weight of your challenges, you have some exceptional occasions to remove your mask and reveal your humanity. Lessons that are enriched with experience are more valuable and inspirational than those that emerge without a little “sweat equity”. Learn to cherish moments that provide a pathway for real-time honesty and seize the moment. You will find that practicing honest communication in tough times reveals what matters most. It’s much easier to withdraw than it is to open up. It’s tempting to hide. But, it’s inspiring to share the truth while you are in the midst of a storm.
Finally, the ability to inspire others during difficult times depends on whether or not you are willing to invest in others. This is a basic premise for inspiring others. In order to inspire others, you must have others in your life and you must choose to turn your focus outward. A commitment to bring out the best in others will bring out the best in you. Such commitment extends the lifespan of inspiration. Timely words of authentic encouragement become an enduring gift.