I hope this true story gives you a little inspiration... because without becoming and staying personally inspired, you can never be an inspirational leader for others. Whether you own your own business, or your leadership mission is undertaken in the service of a firm you don't own, you want to be as inspirational a leader as you can be these days.
In previous pieces, I've talked about how important it is for leaders (aspiring, emerging, and senior leaders) to get inspired, and to stay that way. The best leaders plant the seeds of inspiration by finding things to appreciate... they look around them, and they look at the story of their own lives (past, present, and future-imagined) to find simple wonder and beauty. Once they've planted these seeds of appreciation, great leaders cultivate their personal "garden of inspiration" by feeding themselves a steady diet of inspiring, uplifiting messages... they emphasize the positive in the things they allow into their minds by reading, conversing, and entertaining/informing themselves. And inspirational leaders know that, no matter how well they plant seeds and cultivate their own inspiration, true inspiration requires something of Divine blessing... and they're open to it.
Great leaders are good at telling practical, powerful, and relevant stories which might contribute seeds of inspiration to others. And they're excellent listeners; they invite others to share their inspirational stories, too. See, inspirational leaders are so open-minded and self-effacing - so equally open to helping others and being helped by others - that they often don't see themselves as leaders at all. They lead, and are led, fluidly and naturally. They teach each other, and they learn from each other. They counsel each other. They coach each other. They inspire each other.
The other day I shared with a fellow entrepreneur (she's also a friend and a proven inspirational leader) a powerful experience which served as an example of all these inspirational elements at work, in concert with one another. It was scheduled as a simple breakfast meeting, during which we were to discuss details of an ambitious project which will be a joint venture of our two firms. An hour, maybe ninety minutes. And while we did spend a good 45 minutes at the end of the meeting taking good care of our project business, the discussion lasted almost three-and-a-half hours and was dominated by contemplation of a difficult personal situation in which my friend finds herself.
I've faced similar stuff in my life, and my friend knows that. We traded stories, and fully explored not only what had happened to us, but what we had contributed to our own predicaments (and solutions). We listened carefully to each other. We talked about our decision processes. We talked about our personal values. We talked about what we had done about our problems, things we'd said, and actions we'd taken. We took ownership, each of our own problem solutions, and each of our own struggles. We both led the conversation, and neither of us did. It was a wide-ranging and deep discussion, and I dare say the two of us left the table with bellies full of cold food and hearts full of a warmer sort of nourishment. We're better friends now.
Toward the end of the discussion, I felt suddenly compelled to make an unusual recommendation - a crazy idea for my friend to consider in dealing with her situation. It would require an extraordinary generosity on her part. My idea was certainly something which wouldn't even be conceived by most people, but my generous-spirited friend said she'd seriously consider doing it. She also called the idea "refreshing," and different from what every other "counselor" had advised her to do. It was as if my crazy idea was something that had already been knocking around in the back of her own mind - or heart. And that, I thought, was the Divine miracle of the day.
My friend left the table to visit the restroom, and I was left alone with my thoughts about our intense discussion. Had I really "heard" the message correctly in my own heart or mind? I thought I'd given my friend the product of real inspiration - the kind of Heaven-sent message I believe all of us have available to us all the time but are usually deaf to hearing - but had I, really? Had I given her a good idea, or a disastrous one? Would following my advice needlessly cost her a lot of money? Was hers a problem that would, as her other friends had suggested, be better solved by tough-mindedness than by extraordinary generosity?
As I mulled these thoughts (and misgivings), I pulled out a credit card to pay the breakfast tab. In the next instant, the server handed back my card and ripped up the charge slip. "Someone else has covered your check, including the tip," she said. After a stunned moment, I asked her who'd paid. "I can't tell you that." After pressing the server, she finally said our benefactor wasn't someone who knew either me or my friend, but just a stranger into whose heart had been injected the inspiration for this random act of kindness. And since my friend and I had been seated in a place where no one would've heard our discussion, the kindness couldn't have been "caused" by someone feeling sympathetic toward our views. My friend hadn't done it. The establishment hadn't done it. The bill had been covered by an unseen, anonymous "angel."
I've contributed money anonymously to many people, many times in my life. And I am the recipient of anonymous gifts from time to time. But this sort of thing - having a stranger pay for my breakfast - has never happened to me. It was an excellent occasion, that day, on which to experience that sort of kindness for the first time. It was a confirmation. It was an inspiration. And I believe it came from God.
I hope you find inspiration in your day, in your month, in your year, and in your life. It won't always be so obvious. But things to appreciate, beautiful things, things that have the ability to inspire you... they're out there. And my advice to you is this: if you want to be a great leader, get out and grab as much inspiration as you can. Great leaders have to be bold, and they have to take risks. No one can do that all the time without being attacked by doubts, just as I was that morning. But inspiration is out there, too, if you'll reach out and take hold of it. And a little inspiration, from time to time, is all it will take to keep you going despite the adversity created by your own doubting mind.