What are five motivational strategies that all successful leaders use?

As the story of Motivation for Learning and Performance unfolded, I was privileged to meet and interview a culturally eclectic and demographically diverse group of people.  My travels across continents introduced me to individuals that excelled in their chosen profession. Each person is what I like to call a “motivational leader,” reaching the pinnacle of performance in their domain, but also demonstrating the unique ability to inspire others, often without conscious deliberation or behavioral intent.   

Despite the vocational and cultural differences among the leaders, five consistent leadership strategies emerged during my interviews.  First, leaders frequently approached incredibly different challenges in similar ways, demonstrating patterns of behavior based upon a well-defined set of personal beliefs. A consistent linkage was observed between the beliefs they espoused and the behaviors they exhibited. Each leader indicated that to inspire trust in followers there must be uniformity between what we say and what we do.

Second, each person had an intentional and well-defined plan of action based upon personal commitment to one or more goals. Nothing was left to chance or happenstance. In essence, and in the language of psychologists, each person demonstrated an internal locus of control, taking full responsibility for successes AND failures.  Each person discounted luck and the unscripted nature of life as the cause of their behaviors and corresponding personal and professional development.

Third, each person credited a specific personal or spiritual inspiration that was instrumental in helping them form or clarify their goals. Each incredibly successful individual had a coach or an advisor that assisted them in becoming who they are, regardless of their existing level of prominence, skill, or knowledge. Spiritual did not necessarily mean the belief in a higher power, but a belief that wisdom cannot be gained from personal experience alone.

Fourth, inspirational leaders indicated that one key measure of their personal success was treating others with care and respect.  Leaders were both empathic and altruistic and decisively not egoistic. In other words, each leader felt that helping others was an integral part of their being.  Altruism was exhibited not for a separable payoff, such as feeling good about the self, but instead their behavior was motivated by a genuine need to help others.    

Fifth, motivational leaders expected to succeed, but also expected to fail. Surprisingly, each highly successful individual acknowledged failing many, many times. The reaction to failure was not one of discouragement, but instead failure was a catalyst allowing the person to understand what went wrong and to provide an opportunity to do things differently next time. In total, each individual communicated an optimistic outlook on life expecting to succeed, but realizing that obstacles and setbacks are an inevitable reality of life.