I want to begin this week’s column by issuing heartfelt and hearty congratulations to Trinidad & Tobago’s newly installed president Paula-Mae Weekes for becoming the sixth head of state of the republic and indeed, the first female to hold this high office. I must say that it is always a personal pleasure of mine to witness women successfully navigating and ascending the once male-dominated political ‘mountain’ and ultimately reaching its summit. It is truly a testament to the adaptability, agility and ability of our women to make invaluable contributions to our world at all levels and in all spheres. I am confident that president Weekes now stands as an inspiration and symbol to many a young girl across the twin island republic and, no doubt, beyond.
This brings me squarely in line with the subject that I wish to examine today – that of inspiration and the role of leaders in inspiring others. I am sure that there are many thoughts which immediately come to our minds when we hear words like inspire or inspiration. Maybe we think of being urged or motivated to do or accomplish something. Maybe we think of being energized to perform or adopting a positive outlook on a seemingly negative situation. These would all be fairly accurate as to inspire basically means to fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative and I would wish to suggest to you that this is a fundamental element in leadership.
Uninspired leaders produce uninspired followers and uninspired followers often fail to reach their fullest potential. When a leader lacks a clear and convincing vision for his or her company, team, community or even country, those who follow him or her will be unsure of where they are going and how they will get there. This leads to apathy, demotivation and ultimately to a lack of productivity and an atmosphere of mediocrity – all very undesirable and unsustainable realities. Lack of inspiration in leadership is much like a ship without a rudder – it may be heading right towards something in its path that is potentially catastrophic, but it lacks the ability to steer itself away from it.
Alternatively, leaders who are themselves inspired, are driven to do whatever it takes to ensure that their team is safely and successfully reaching its desired destination. They urge and motivate their team and they create within each member a sense that anything is possible. They want to be like the leader or at the very least, they do not want to disappoint or let down the leader; this is the power of inspiration in leadership.
I am reminded of an absolutely captivating film (which was based on a true account) called Coach Carter starring Samuel L. Jackson. In it, he plays the part of a coach who takes up the difficult assignment of coaching an unruly high school basketball team at his former high school – a basketball team of which he was once a member. Unfortunately, the current team consists of young men who are rude, disrespectful and underperforming both on the court and in the classroom. In an effort to turn this all around, Coach Carter places all of his players on contracts which require them to fulfil certain requirements if they are to remain on the team. One critical requirement was that of attending all classes and maintaining their grades.
Initially, it all seems foreign and unnecessary to the students but the efforts to deliver a high degree of discipline, structure and direction to the young players begin to pay off and they begin to perform extremely well and to win. But the story doesn’t end there, as at one point in time Coach Carter discovers that his players are not attending their classes and their grades have fallen below the required levels. With this, he locks off the gym and refuses to allow the youth to play in the championship game. After much criticism from all and being overruled by the school board, Coach Carter is forced to resign from his post. However, in the process of leaving, he finds his players on the basketball court sitting at desks and being taught by their teachers in an effort to improve their academic performance. He inspired them not only to want to be better basketball players, but ultimately to be better individuals.
This coach, and the film produced to highlight him, demonstrate for us the power of inspirational leadership. It not only stifles mediocrity and stalls underperformance, it transforms and reenergizes us towards becoming better versions of ourselves. Many of the students in this film did not believe that they could ever achieve anything outside of playing basketball on the court. They struggled academically, and their other teachers were fine with this as long as they played well on the court. All leaders should seek to urge their followers to believe in themselves and to reach for what may at first seem impossible.
To all of our younger readers out there, don’t give up on your dreams! Whatever the nature of the challenges you face, no matter how insurmountable they may seem, keep your eyes on the prize and press ahead.
To all of our older readers, the same goes for you – it’s never to late to steer your ship away from mediocrity and just existing; point yourself in a new, right direction.
Leaders: make it your business to be an inspiration to those under your charge for they need you to urge them on towards higher heights.
(Davidson Ishmael holds a MBA in Leadership and Innovation and is an operations manager in the financial services sector.