What is an inspiring Leadership?

Phillip Price in Mr. Robot

You can’t force an agenda, Mr Alderson. You have to inspire one.

Philip Price, CEO of Evil Corp (legal name is E Corp) says the above words while concluding a meeting with Mr Alderson, the protagonist in a much-acclaimed web series — Mr Robot. The header image of this article is dedicated to him.

This web series has 4 seasons and 40+ episodes. Out of all the quotes, this particular one has stayed with me. It always made me realize that real leaders inspire people and not tell them or order them to do something. Being so simple, this had a magical effect on me.

In the first half of the May month of this year, I was in Ahmedabad for a training trip and there I went to Sabarmati Ashram. In the Ashram, all the signs and symbols of Gandhiji were inspiring. The letters are written in his handwriting, their old photos and their kitchen and work room with charka. All inspired their teaching. He and Kasturba inspired millions of humans to walk on the path of non-violence. A difficult yet successful mantra. He was a true leader; he could inspire so many people. The question is, was inspiring people his ultimate goal?

Gandhiji’s seat in Sabarmati Ashram

Recently I was having a team review and I got feedback from my manager that my team is not inspired enough. And I started to think of all the activities that I did to inspire my team. Many times, I led by example so that my team members see me doing, learn from me and get inspired. However, the result was not as expected. I was questioning myself, what has gone wrong? Why all the efforts of two years have gone in vain. I cannot even blame the “remote nature of the team”. Almost all teams in my company are remote teams and all of them are inspired and connected with the mission and vision of the organization.

A lot of deliberation and deep thinking didn’t give me the answer I was looking for. As you would know, there are no questions with no right answers. And the answers are always inside us. This answer to the “Inspiring Leadership” question was revealed to me while reading the book, “ The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak ( alert for a small spoiler ahead).

I was reading the section “The Long Walk to Dachau”. This chapter portrays a picturesque view of one of the many iconic Jew parades that happened in midst of World War II. The scene goes like this:

The Jews were walking on a long stretch of a road. The people of Himmel Street (the central place in the story plot) came out on the road to look at the parade. It appeared as if the rotten bodies have come out of their grave and walking on the road. They have already travelled an infinite distance and have to cover infinite distance without any tinge of hope in their eye. I will stop here to describe the scene as I cannot do justice here to the scene.

In the middle of the parade, there was an old man somehow covering some distance by constantly rising and falling on the ground. Hans Hubbermann, the foster father of the lead character, Liesel, comes out from the crowd and hands a piece of bread to the old man. He couldn’t stop himself from doing so. He has a human heart and is stuck in Nazi Germany against his will. For this action, he was whipped four times and punished in an imaginable way. I would excuse myself from exposing the details of the punishment. That is not relevant here. What is relevant is the effect this small act of humanity had on the kids.

When the third similar parade was about to cross the Molching area of Munich, the lead character and her best friend, Rudy attempted to repeat actions of their father. Their stomach was growling with hunger and yet they decided to help with food. They spread pieces of bread on the road ahead of the parade so that the Jews can grab some. Liesel gets caught in the act as well and gets punished lightly. The line that moved me was when Liesel says to Rudy, “we shouldn’t do this, it’s risky”. And Rudy replies, “your father did this”.

The point that I am trying to draw here is that something was ignited in the eyes of kids when Hans attempted a suicidal stunt of helping a Jew during World War II. Was Hans doing that to inspire others? Clearly no. He was doing it because he wanted to. If he would have done it intending to inspire others, it would have been a huge failure and appear as a drama.

From this section, I learned that the action that inspires leadership should be pure as fire and natural as water. It cannot have a secondary purpose. It should have the only purpose of doing something good. Inspiration and everything will follow if the act was genuine and done in good faith.

Having learnt this lesson, I felt so good. I realized how wrong I was. I was doing things to inspire people and not for the sake of doing it. Inspiration should be an outcome and not a goal. That is something that makes it effective.

That’s it for today. I will end now with a quote from John Maxwell.

Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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