The Seven Secrets: of Inspiring Leaders

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The Seven Secrets: of Inspiring Leaders

According to Bloomberg Businessweek   Small Business &

Insights into selling your vision, your value — and yourself.

By Carmine Gallo

FILED UNDER: Leadership Insights.



American business professionals are uninspired.

Only 10 percent of employees look forward to going to work and most point to a lack of leadership as the reason why,

according to a recent Martitz Research poll.

And no, providing free coffee and fruit in the company kitchen isn’t going to change their minds.  It’s a sad observation about the state of American business today.

One-third of U.S employees are so unhappy they are thinking of leaving their jobs.  Let me ask you – how is it possible that unhappy, unmotivated and disengaged employees could possibly offer exceptional customer service or develop exciting, innovative products that move your brand forward?  They can’t. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

All business leaders have the power to inspire, motivate and positively influence the people in their professional lives.

That’s why it is up to you as leader to satisfy what Emerson called a person’s “chief want:” someone who will inspire us to be what we know we can be.

For the past year, I have been interviewing renowned leaders, entrepreneurs and educators who have an extraordinary ability to sell their vision, values and themselves. I researched their communications secrets for my new book, “Fire Them Up! 7 Simple Secrets to Inspire Your Colleagues, Customers and Clients.”

What I discovered along the way were seven techniques that you can easily adopt in your own professional communications with your employees, clients and investors to motivate and inspire.


Richard Branson

In a recent article about Richard Branson, I outlined what I believe are the 7 qualities that all inspiring leaders share.  The list was compiled with the help of dozens of the world’s most inspiring business leaders for a book I wrote in 2009.  Since then I have never seen a leader considered to be “inspiring” by his or her team who did not possess each and every one of these qualities.  So here they are.


Suze Orman

1. Ignite Your Enthusiasm. I once asked the famous financial guru, Suze Orman, for the secret behind her success. You cannot inspire, she said, unless you’re inspired yourself.  She’s speaking about passion. Every inspiring leader is abundantly passionate—not about the product itself, but what the product means to their customers.  Steve Jobs is not passionate about computers.  He’s passionate about building tools that help people to unleash their personal creativity.  Big difference.

Demonstrate enthusiasm — constantly.

Inspiring leaders have an abundance of passion for what they do. You cannot inspire unless you’re inspired yourself. Period. Passion is something I can’t teach. In fact, no one can. You either have passion for your message or you don’t.

Once you discover your passion, make sure it’s apparent to everyone within your professional circle. Richard Tait, for example, sketched an idea on a napkin during a cross-country flight. It was an idea to bring joyful moments to families and friends. His enthusiasm was so infectious that he convinced partners, employees and investors to join him. He created a toy and game company called Cranium. Walk into its Seattle headquarters and you are instantly hit with a wave of fun, excitement and engagement the likes of which is rarely seen in corporate life. It all started with one man’s passion.


Wendy Kopp, Teach For America

2. Navigate a course of action. Nothing extraordinary ever happened without a leader articulating a vision, a course of action.  We’ve seen this throughout history (think John F. Kennedy challenging a nation to land a man on the moon) and it works for building brands as well.  When I interviewed Teach for America founder, Wendy Kopp, she said that her ‘vision’ as a college student was to “eliminate educational inequities.”

That vision remains as strongly in place today as it did when she started the non-profit that trains college graduates to teach in schools across America.  Bold visions create excitement and inspire evangelists.

Articulate a compelling course of action.

Inspiring leaders craft and deliver a specific, consistent and memorable vision. A goal such as ‘we intend to double our sales by this time next year’ is not inspiring. Neither is a long, convoluted mission statement destined to be tucked away and forgotten in a desk somewhere.

A vision is a short (usually 10 words or less), vivid description of what the world will look like if your product or service succeeds. Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer once said that shortly after he joined the company, he was having second thoughts. Bill Gates and Gates’ father took Ballmer out to dinner and said he had it all wrong. They said Ballmer saw his role as that of a bean counter for a start-up. They had a vision of putting a computer on every desk, in every home. That vision — a computer on every desk, in every home — remains consistent to this day. The power of a vision set everything in motion.


3. Sell the benefit. Your employees don’t care about growing sales by 10 percent this year.  That’s a goal—or a result—of achieving a vision.  But it’s not inspiring.  One CEO of a major retailer once told me that his “goal” was to double his company’s stock price in one year—a goal most people thought was impossible to achieve.  He did it with the enthusiastic help of his employees who bought in to the plan.  They did so because in every conversation he talked about what it would mean to them – job security, stability, new flex time policies, more day-care for working mothers, etc..  Your employees are asking one question, “What’s in it for me?” Don’t leave them guessing.

Sell the benefit.

Always remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them. In my first class at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, I was taught to answer the question ‘why should my readers care?’ That’s the same thing you need to ask yourself constantly throughout a presentation, meeting, pitch or any situation where persuasion takes place. Your listeners are asking themselves ‘what’s in this for me?’ Answer it. Don’t make them guess.


4. Paint a picture. Our brains are programmed more for stories than for abstract ideas.  Stories can include the real stories of how your products are improving the lives of your customers.  Stories can also include personal anecdotes, helping to establish a closer connection between leaders and teams.  Recently I spent time with a top executive of a very large, global energy company.  He had very personal, touching stories of what the company and its safety record meant to him.  I urged him to begin telling the stories in his public presentations, especially with employees.  After one talk an employee approached this leader and said he felt more inspired than ever.  Stories make connections.  

Tell more stories.

Inspiring leaders tell memorable stories. Few business leaders appreciate the power of stories to connect with their audiences.

A few weeks ago I was working with one of the largest producers of organic food in the country. I can’t recall most, if any, of the data they used to prove organic is better. But I remember a story a farmer told. He said when he worked for a conventional grower, his kids could not hug him at the end of the day when he got home. His clothes had to be removed and disinfected. Now, his kids can hug him as soon as he walks off the field.

No amount of data can replace that story. And now guess what I think about when I see the organic section in my local grocery store? You got it. The farmer’s story. Stories connect with people on an emotional level. Tell more of them.



Marissa Mayer, Google

5. Invite participation. Google Vice President Marissa Mayer once told me that she keeps a sign-up sheet outside her door for “office hours” that are held each day at 4:00 p.m.  She gives team members 15 minutes to voice their opinions or pitch new ideas.  People want more than a paycheck.  They want to create meaning.  Invite them in.

Invite participation.

Inspiring leaders bring employees, customers, and colleagues into the process of building the company or service. This is especially important when trying to motivate young people.

The command and control way of managing is over. Instead, today’s managers solicit input, listen for feedback and actively incorporate what they hear. Employees want more than a paycheck. They want to know that their work is adding up to something meaningful.


6. Reinforce an optimistic outlook.

Inspiring leaders speak of a better future. Robert Noyce, the co-founder of Intel, said “Optimism is an essential ingredient of innovation. How else can the individual favor change over security?”

Extraordinary leaders throughout history have been more optimistic than the average person. Winston Churchill exuded hope and confidence in the darkest days of World War II. Colin Powell said that optimism was the secret behind Ronald Reagan’s charisma. Powell also said that optimism is a force multiplier, meaning it has a ripple effect throughout an organization.

Speak in positive, optimistic language. Be a beacon of hope.


7. Encourage potential.

Inspiring leaders praise people and invest in them emotionally. Richard Branson has said that when you praise people they flourish; criticize them and they shrivel up. Praise is the easiest way to connect with people. When people receive genuine praise, their doubt diminishes and their spirits soar. Encourage people and they’ll walk through walls for you.

By inspiring your listeners, you become the kind of person people want to be around. Customers will want to do business with you, employees will want to work with you and investors will want to back you. It all starts with mastering the language of motivation.

Carmine Gallo is the communication skills coach for the world’s most admired brands. He is a popular speaker and the author of several books including his current title, “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience” (McGraw-Hill). Visit Carmine directly at


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