In a 2008 Gallop poll, Americans were asked if they preferred a tested or inspiring president. The results were interesting:
- 52 percent would prefer someone who is a tested leader but who is not that inspiring
- 43 percent would prefer someone who is inspiring but who has not been tested as a leader
At this point in time, tested won out over inspiring. There is a decent separation between the two dimensions, but opinions can be swayed. Essentially, I believe people would like their leaders to be tested and inspiring. This leadership combination creates the right mix in selecting the prudent paths forward, weathering the challenges ahead, and lifting up a higher purpose and cause orientation in the work to be done. Getting both may be too idealistic though.
Providing a frame of reference around a tested leader and an inspiring may help the conversation.
Tested Leader and Inspiring Leader Defined
A tested leader is someone who has experienced victories and defeats and most other places in between. More than experiencing these situations is successfully and unsuccessfully working through them. In success, there are insights, just as there are in unsuccessful experiences. The key for a tested leader is they have grown in what they have learned from both.
An inspiring leader is someone who lifts the spirits of another and rallies people to do more than they thought possible. Inspiration raises one’s view to see what is possible and what the larger purpose means. An inspiring leader knows how to tap into the human spirit and use it to achieve a higher goal and mission.
These are my definitions. I believe they work but add your insights in the comment section below.
What Does the Leadership Blends Produce?
Leadership requires a certain blend of being tested and inspiring. If the imbalance is too great, leadership faults begin to appear and people may lose confidence. Let’s walk through what this means.
Ordinary. Being un-tested and uninspiring can translate into being just ordinary. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it is just that we do our work and that is about it. Another way to look at this is we need to continue to advance in our personal development. Time and experience go hand-in-hand. We can position ourselves to take on projects to become more tested, just as we can read and interact with others and find our inspiring voice. In either case, to move from Ordinary to one of the other quadrants requires work, an open mind, and an open spirit.
What to do:
- Do the work. Learning your leadership craft will enhance your experiences and test you along the way. Keep getting your hands dirty in the meaningful work.
- Spend the time to find what excites you and energizes your mind and spirit. When that happens, a new inspiration will spark and a whole new world will open up.
Cheerleader. Being an un-tested and inspiring leader can be viewed as being a cheerleader. Cheerleaders play a role. However, when the times get challenging, people may put more trust in a leader who has been tested already. A cheerleader in tough times can begin to sound hollow in their calls to action. To move up a level requires accepting initiatives that gives us the scars and medals of leading.
What to do:
- Surround yourself with others have been tested and tap into their strengths. Lean on tested team members.
- Temper your enthusiasm but not your spirit.
- Volunteer for the tough assignments to learn, grown, and gain in experience.
Reactive. Being tested yet uninspiring can mean the leader is unseen when achievements happen or challenges appear. A reactive leader may be navigating behind the scenes, plotting tactics and developing strategies. The danger may be when the leader uses tried formulas of the past rather than considering new ways to solve new problems. Also, at times, people need to see their leader out front, visible in work and message. Just as actions can inspire so can the voice of a leader. At times, we need to see and hear both.
What to do:
- Be visible in where the work is being done. People gain inspiration by seeing their leaders engaging with others and doing the work.
- Set accountability moments to ensure you are getting out of your comfort zone and growing in how you pursue initiatives in a changing environment.
- Be vulnerable. In our vulnerability, our inspiring soul appears. Let your guard down and let your emotions show.
Progressive. Being tested and inspired is a potentially powerful and empowering combination. We trust the leader because of their experiences, and we are engaged because of their call to act in what needs to be done. Although this leadership combination does not ensure success, it raises the confidence level of all involved. In many ways, the bar is raised in expectations for both the leader and the people around them. A leader with this combination, more often, is ready to engage change and move initiatives from Point A to Point B and beyond.
What to do:
- Guard against becoming hollow in your message and actions. Ensure consistency of words and actions, continuing to build and promote trust.
- Always engage others along the way and share the spotlight. Leaders need to grow more leaders so guide others and always give them a chance.
Situations Happen, Ready or Not
What does this all mean? The simple answers may be:
- The only way to gain experience and become a tested leader is to jump into the arena and do the work.
- Being an inspiring leader requires finding your voice and tuning it over time.
Situations come in two forms. The first are the ones we select and then engage fully in solving problems and resolving challenges. The second are the ones that find us, and we must respond and lead forward with resilience, perseverance, and calm. Through them all, the vital ingredient is growth. Without growth in understanding, capability, and renewed ways to lead, all situations become lost causes, and your leadership will be flat and discarded.
We cannot predict all of our situations, but we can prepare ourselves. What the Leadership Blend Model illustrates are ways to strengthen our leadership skills and prepare ourselves to lead in whatever situation we are engaged in.
An essential to never forget – results matter. Whether tested, inspiring, or both, good leaders achieve results. Results are achieved by working collaboratively with others and by empowering others along the way. A tested leader should produce results by their very nature. Having proven results is a more vital point for inspiring leaders. Results matter, as do people. Progressive leaders understand these facts.
The question returns: Which do you prefer – a Tested Leader or an Inspiring Leader? More importantly, where are you in the Leadership Blend Model and what actions will you now take?
Join the Conversation
Tested Leader or Inspiring Leader: What Is the Right Blend?
Inspiring Leader every time!
well said, Jon.
There are times we decide to take a risk on someone or something untested. If the conditions are right, we take the chance because the need for change is high.
The answer depends on the circumstances you are in. We always want both…
That is a great point, Skip. When we layer the situation and circumstances in, our desire for a tested or inspiring leader may shift. Situation and circumstances are a great element to weave into this conversation. Thank you for insights! Jon
Love this alternative view on leadership styles and substance. Great stuff Jon.
Thanks so much, Scott!
Your post is terrific, Jon and inspiring us to have a great dialogue!
For me, either-or is not a possibility for leadership success and impact. Leaders who are not tested are not often followed or modeled because there is no track record or accomplishments to learn from. Leaders who can’t inspire and rally others towards a cause or goal will be left all alone to complete a mission.
I love that you included steps to gain knowledge and skills where one may feel not as strong. We need to strive towards being both while making sure we remain authentic to our own leadership model.
Terri, Thanks for the feedback and added insights. Either-or is a tough leadership model to adopt. We do need a blend to really empower teams, ideas, solutions, and more. Appreciate your comments! Jon
Terrific post. I have seen too many folks in the reactive category who have much power, shutting down other quadrants. The real magic is in the appreciation and synergy across quadrants.
There is synergy across the quadrants. Great point, Karin. When leaders tap into the skills and leadership abilities of others — tested or inspiring — goals are achieved in more fulfilling ways. Thanks! Jon
Another great 4 square Jon. I continue to think this is a tricky question. I like how you’ve laid this out. It’s likely that there’s at least a third dimension in play. That 3rd dimension is likely something along the lines of influence. But, I could also make arguments that other characteristics are also important in the mix. Seems another great sign of a great thought provoking post. Thanks Jon.
Thank you, Joy. Really appreciate that. Influence is a great element to consider. Both tested and inspiring leaders would have a certain amount of influence. Interesting. A tested leader may have more influence within the circles they are know while an inspiring leader may have a broader influence potential. Good food for thought! Thank you so much for adding that and for your support. Jon
This post sparked a great conversation between my husband and I as we reflected on leaders we know that are tested and / or inspiring. Thank you!
One thing that surprised me as I read this is that you categorized leaders that are tested but not inspiring as reactive. I can see that’s the way some tested leaders that do most of their work behind the scenes can appear. I’ve worked for leaders that were very tested (seasoned) yet not remotely inspiring. Still, they were out in front, leading the charge to where they firmly believed we needed to go. I followed them with confidence because I knew that they had strategy in place and the experience to back it up. They were far from under the radar or behind the scenes. Do I wish they had some more rah-rah? YES.
Still reflecting on this! The sign of a good read!
Thanks, Alli. So glad it sparked a conversation with you husband! That is a wonderful thing.
I struggled with the Reactive classification but couldn’t come up with a better term. My thought was that, even though they may not always be behind the scenes, they may be viewed as applying the same formula to different problems or receding into their non-visible, comfort zones.
It is interesting to think through leader we have worked with or have seen in public life and see where they fit, whether in the two by two or in the tested or inspiring category.
Appreciate your feedback and insights here! Thanks. Jon