Why inspiring your team is not (quite) enough

Chirp tips on how not to lead like David Brent

Unless you’re very lucky, you’ve probably worked for at least one boss hell bent on channelling David Brent or Darth Vader. I’m guessing it wasn’t much fun. And that it didn’t result in your best work, either.

We often hear that inspiring others is a leadership essential. I wholeheartedly agree. And yet, on its own, it’s not enough. The most effective (and inspiring) leaders I’ve come across also enable. They embody what they seek in others, and show how it can be achieved. In doing so, they help colleagues take their inspiration and turn it into action.

I believe a few building blocks can help all of us be both inspiring and enabling leaders – particularly when experimenting or leading change. I’ve shared my top five below.


1. Don’t just tell, be

Embodying what you think and believe is hugely compelling. Most of us value integrity, and see it in people we perceive as coherent. Not solely in what they think, say, and do – but in how they say and do it. So try to ensure your delivery and actions mirror your thoughts and words. That clarity will also build trust and understanding, helping others share in your vision and embody it for themselves. It all creates a positive cycle, with fewer mistakes, less effort, and better, more sustainable results.

2. Lead with your body

Scan down from head to toe to help you notice and acknowledge how you feel. Chances are you’ll be unwittingly communicating those feelings anyway – from anxiety to delight, so it’s worth being aware of them. Being in your body can help you notice, sit with, or channel how you feel more effectively. Not only that, but it will help you stay in the moment and connected to those around you – resulting greater influence and impact.

3. Storytelling

Yes, I know it’s a term that gets bandied about a lot and seems to resist concise definition. Yet storytelling is important because bland instructions, reports and requests often produce a bland result. Storytelling engages the emotions, helping people to own the idea, task or project for themselves. And that emotional engagement in turn helps them deliver it with precisely the right feel, tone and attitude. Which is often what makes great work shine. Your stories don’t need to be long, fictional or prescriptive. They do need to be delivered in an aligned way – see point 1! For more on storytelling, I’d recommend this from The Writer.

4. Modelling

I often run sessions in which participants are tasked with leading the group in one small change. Almost always, these participants give a full, verbal explanation of what they want. And then find it's been interpreted completely differently by their team. Particularly when leading change or exploring something that's new to you, modelling helps others understand what you really want, rather than a version of it. And if it’s unreasonable or unclear, you’ll swiftly discover that too. We can often feel that we don’t have enough time for this, but the clarity it creates saves both time and energy in the long run.

5. Develop agility

It’s a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world out there. We know that because there’s an acronym for it – VUCA. Many of us experience its impact in our daily working lives, with all its attendant stress and glory. The ability to test, assess and act swiftly in these conditions is critical. So be responsive. Give new ideas room to breathe, listen to feedback, note when it works and why, and try a different tack if it doesn't.


The balance between these elements will be different for each of us, and shift with the people we lead. Embracing fluidity should help us get the best out of our own leadership styles, and enable our teams to excel. An inspiring thought – provided we act on it!

At Chirp we work with organisations to develop these capacities in leaders at all stages of their careers. We also offer personalised, one-to-one coaching. Do drop us a line if you’d like to hear more or receive a copy of our case studies.