The Power of Inspirational Leadership

Posted by on Nov 9, 2012 in ComLead, Managing Not-For-Profit Organizations, Organizational Leadership

The Power of Inspirational Leadership

“What’s the best way to influence and motivate others?” It’s a question that constantly plagues leaders, veteran and first-timers alike. While there is no single best method, it’s useful to consider desired outcome when contemplating different leadership tactics. The three general outcomes you might aim for when attempting to influence others are:

  1. Resistance: counter-intuitive, yes, but sometimes leaders aim to paint a negative view, hoping others will resist and work towards more positive outcomes
  2. Compliance:  leaders may aim simply to motivate others to take a prescribed course of action
  3. Commitment: leaders, especially in organizations, aim for targets to both agree with and support them. Commitment helps foster lasting change, even when the leader steps back from the group.

In my projects with community organizations, the ComLead program calls me to lead towards the final outcome: commitment. Especially in my semester-long partnership with a local non-profit organization, I aim to motivate the group to adopt innovative fundraising techniques. They may comply, and test out new fundraising tactics during our partnership, but I aim to help them commit to the best practices that will set them on long-term path toward growth. With the ultimate outcome of commitment in mind, organizational behavior research has shown three techniques to be most effective: inspirational appeals, consultation, and personal appeals.

Inspirational Appeals

To inspire commitment, leaders can tap into the hearts and minds of their audience. These messages touch on human desires for community, significance and to be part of something bigger than ourselves. One managerial study shows that 90% of inspirational appeals successfully led to commitment.



Rather than motivating with rhetorical pleas, leaders can simply ask others for help to reach a desired goal. When leaders call upon others for help, they show confidence in that person’s knowledge abilities. Especially in democratic cultures, consultation invites others to become immediately and directly involved in solving a problem. In the same study mentioned above, this technique led to commitment in 55% of researched cases.


Personal Appeals

This technique simply requires leaders to ask for help based on personal relationships. It takes advantage of the truth that we enjoy helping those we know and like. In 42% of cases, motivating others based on personal connections led to the target’s commitment towards a cause.


The cited study also shows that rational persuasion, the most used persuasion technique, is also the least effective in inspiring commitment. Though organizations are thought to be rational entities, rational appeals are not always the best way to inspire the people inside them. At my non-profit partner organization, calling the staff to be a part of a grand plan may be the best way to help them commit to new techniques for organization growth. How have you experienced the power of inspirational leadership?


Source: Falbe, C. M., & Yukl, G. (1992). Consequences for managers of using single influence tactics and combinations of tactics. Academy of Management Journal, 35, 638–652 in Bauer and Erdogan (2010). Organizational Behavior.

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