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Inspirational leadership

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A few years ago I made the transition from working in the field of Business Change to working in Learning and Development. I now work for Thales Training and Consulting as a Learning and Development Consultant. My role is to work with Thales business units and external customers to understand how we can support them through major change initiatives. I am keen to share this knowledge to help wherever I can. 

In September 2017 I spoke at the APM ‘Women in Project Management Conference’ on ‘How to raise your profile for promotion’. After the event I started blogging and now I have been asked by the APM to write a series of blogs as a follow-up.  Over the next year, I will be drawing on my experience and knowledge to write blogs on Leadership, Team Development, Organisational Development, Business Psychology and the use of psychometrics to improve individual and team performance, wellbeing, resilience and mental toughness.

Having suffered in many projects in my lifetime at the end of poor and lacklustre leadership, I have now developed a passion for ‘Inspirational Leadership’. What is it? What is the essence of inspiration and how can inspirational leadership help you be a better project manager? The first place to look to understand this is inside yourself. As JK Rowling said:

‘It is important to remember that we all have magic within us’

Magic, magic, magic…we all love it, but what is it? The truth is there’s no one answer to this; it means something different to everyone and every time I run a workshop, no matter what the purpose of the workshop, I want people to find this ‘magic’ within.  When it comes to a topic like Inspirational Leadership this magic is a very personal thing and my job is to help my delegates find the key to unlock their learning and find the magic. 

With this in mind I had to become very creative recently when asked by the Director of Bids and Programmes in the Avionics domain of Thales UK, to create a unique workshop for 15 project managers to help them develop their Inspirational Leadership skills. A challenge like this is a dream for a Learning and Development Consultant and I thought long and hard about the best way to do this for my audience. Eventually inspiration itself came to me from my Army experience. As a young officer at Sandhurst we spent many long days studying history, reflecting on great leaders and examining the lessons from terrible wars.  It is critical in the education of all young people that we learn from history, so we don’t repeat it! I remember those sessions at Sandhurst well, but after leaving the Army I enjoyed a wide range of new experiences.

I became a Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioner and while NLP has had mixed press in the past, I was taught by one of the best in the business - Pegasus’s NLP. Modelling excellence is a core philosophy of NLP and one that applies directly to inspirational leadership; learning how to examine a situation or person from different perspectives, break their behaviour down into knowledge, skills and behaviours and understand their drivers helps you understand how you can model this behaviour yourself. Being like your role model and finding your own personal brand of Inspirational Leadership is critical to developing your personal capability as a leader.

With this technique in mind I looked for a person who demonstrated Inspirational Leadership and a venue that brought him or her to life, as the foundation for the workshop. Thinking of my experience at Sandhurst, I arrived at Sir Winston Churchill. Many years ago I visited the Churchill War Rooms in London and loved the experience.  The museum inspired me and I had a memorable visit, and so the magic started to happen and I designed an Inspirational Leadership event in the CWR.

The day was truly memorable and the delegates loved it! Magic definitely happened in the bunkers below the streets of London as the project managers talked
about what inspires them, enjoyed a tour of the museum and examined Churchill’s personality through a wonderful interactive display.

We started the morning reflecting on role models for inspiration from our own personal experience. This activity brought out many traits of a leader such as perseverance, communication, trust, resilience, authenticity, risk taking and commitment to achieving their dreams. The delegates then visited the museum and spent time reflecting on what is inspirational about Churchill. This led to further reflection on what makes the difference between a leader and an inspirational leader. A core theme that emerged during the day was how Churchill mobilised the English language both written and spoken, to move people to action; the delegates were also inspired by how Churchill struggled in school and yet overcame his personal learning difficulties to go on to become a great leader. Churchill’s authenticity, honesty and humanity were also picked up as the essence of an inspirational leader.

Returning to the museum armed with the Thales Leadership Framework, the delegates examined how Churchill demonstrated the behaviours we expect of our leaders in Thales. This proved to be an interesting exercise drawing out lessons on how Churchill dealt with complexity and ambiguity, how he engaged people and teams and how he worked with key stakeholders – in his case the president of the USA!

Building on the magic and inspiration of the morning, in the afternoon we spent time reviewing an ‘Inspirational Leadership Toolkit’ which I created to help the attendees understand how to deal with a lack of trust and conflict in teams and how to gain the commitment of followers. As an unusual twist I challenged the delegates to open their minds and listen to inspiring speeches, poetry that great leaders held close to their heart and reflect on lessons they could learn from high performing teams such as the All Blacks rugby team.

The afternoon rounded off with another trip to the museum to reflect on the day and find an element of the exhibition which stood out as personally inspirational for each individual. As this event took place close to Remembrance Day, we finished with a walk past Horseguards Parade, stopping to reflect at several war memorials.

Helping people to tap into their ‘inner inspirational leader’ is no small feat. When creating this event, I wanted to run a session which encouraged people to think about the very essence of inspiration itself, I wanted them to learn to reflect on role models in a different way and find their own personal magic which would help them become more inspirational as leaders back in their roles as project managers. For me, personally, it was a great day; I left feeling inspired by the enthusiasm of the group and their earnest desire to bring the lessons they had learnt back to their jobs. The feedback from everyone who attended was really positive and the delegates remain enthusiastic about what they learnt on the day.

But we all know a single one day session is never enough to create change on its own, no matter how inspiring or engaging it may be, so to help we ran a follow-up Action Learning Set and a feedback session after six weeks to understand how the day has changed what they did at work. Changes observed in our project managers were increased confidence, improved communication, better team performance, increase in trust and higher levels of team commitment. The feedback from the project managers was positive, all had a memorable experience and felt empowered to research more about their role models and find their own person inspirational magic.

*‘Lucy has a full career in the British Army behind her which culminated in the Award of an MBE for ‘The Modernization of Training in the British Army’. 

 Read her next blog: Developing women in leadership


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  1. Richard Renshaw
    Richard Renshaw 02 March 2018, 08:19 PM

    1. The Environment. I thought forums for development of organizational strategic three to five year plans could prove conducive when organisations seek to develop the inspirational leadership skill set of their Leaders. Potentially what could come tumbling our is the development of key performance indicators to enable periodic assessment for monitoring of leaders’ development toward inspirational leadership. One option is to consider the behavior and I suggest that it’s necessary to be the role model. The description could include: leads by example, demands excellence, safety and integrity always. The behaviours to demonstrate:  Leads by example: consistently attracts high-quality projects, programmes and staff to the particular organization. Continues to look for ways to grow and help others grow by building upon their strengths via structured three-year career plans. The plans themselves to be a combination of alignment to both the companies strategic objectives and ambitions of the individual in terms of idealized: future role, desired industry and geographical location.  Inspirational Leadership is the concept of developing Intrinsic Motivation in another person. So the follow on question is: "How does one cultivate intrinsic motivation?". There are a lot of books out there on this topic. These are my three tenets for intrinsic motivation and subsequently - Success. a. Autonomy - People need to know they have control over their domain to head in multiple directions b. Authority - People need to know they have the ability to make decisions and be supported in that decision c. Reward - Monetary and non-monetary feedback reinforces the positive intrinsic motivation So what does an inspirational leader do with respect to others? They understand what is important to the individual and balances out the elements that drive the persons motivations. Another very important part of the concept of Inspirational Leadership is the fact that its not the same "the person in charge". There are many inspirational leaders in all aspects of life. So just like in the book From Good to Great don't worry too much about where the bus is going. First get the right people on the bus and you'll find your way. Source: Jeff Freemyer 