What is it to inspire?

Leadership is defined by many things. Amongst them, is the ability to inspire others to do better. Throughout history, we can see many examples of good leaders providing that sort of inspiration, in fact, pretty much all good leaders that we can think of, has this as a clear trait. The most recent one relevant for me, has been the inspiration that our new Prime Minister in Malaysia has provided, Tun Dr Mahathir. At 93 (which also makes him the oldest elected leader in the world), he has been a central source of leadership and inspiration to break a 60+ year political dominance of the former ruling coalition, one which he, himself, led as Prime Minister for 22 years.

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Tun Dr Mahathir wining GE14 in Malaysia

To be sure, he wasn’t the only reason for the shift in power. There was already a growing trend, with the then opposition winning the popular in the last General Elections. I believe, however, that Tun Dr Mahathir was the tipping point which ensured the victory of the new ruling coalition.

Beyond politics, we can see inspirational people and the effects they have had in all other arenas as well, from business, sports, schools, civil society, and everything in between. In fact, I know of more inspirational people outside of politics, and that’s the point of this post. The simple statement is that someone who inspires does not also have to be a leader. On the other hand, a good leader should be inspiring.

We should all be working towards being an inspiration to someone, and if you have kids, or work with kids, that’s your target demographic there.  A parent or a teacher has to be able to inspire the children under their care to be the best version of themselves that they can be. Note that this is vastly different from telling them what they should be. Of course, as a parent, we may have certain aspirations for our kids; we want the best for them, the best toys, the best homes, the best holidays, the best schools, the best jobs. But we have to realise that we don’t know what the future holds for them. We should educate them the best we can and advise them the best we can, but at some point, they need to make their own decisions, and I feel that decisions on their own future should be theirs to make. Luckily, I’m a long way away from that.

In being an inspiration for someone, we need to remember that we inspire more through our actions, than our words. We need to also have that sort of integrity in our actions. In other words, we have to walk the talk. It’s not enough to just tell someone to do something or act a certain way. If they don’t see us doing it, than we’re inspiring them to follow our own deeds. I’ve mentioned before, that to be a good parent, first, we must be a good child. I’ll reiterate that again here. If we want our kids to love us and care for us when we grow old, we must treat our own parents that same way. Our kids will see those actions and treat us the same way. The same applies in the office. If we expect people to come in on time, we too, must come in on time.

People do talk about inspiring speeches and talks, though. For example, Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I had a dream” speech. It was hailed as inspirational. Imagine, though, if his actions contradicted everything he said. It wouldn’t be half as inspiring then, would it? It was the fact that he followed through with his words, that people believed in him and followed him.

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Martin Luther King Jr inspired many people around the world.

My main point, though, which is getting a bit lost here, is that everyone can and should be inspiring others. Even in the little things. Sometimes, especially in the little things. We always hear about the big inspirational leaders and heroes, but not everyone can be a Tun Dr Mahathir or a Martin Luther King Jr. We should inspire each other in the small things as well, and we should look for people who inspire us in these smaller ways. As a business owner, I know the ones in the office who do inspire the others, and I make sure to highlight them to the others. When I see someone else doing something good, I highlight that act to motivate and inspire the others too.

So, let’s all try to be a bit more inspiring. Let’s all inspire each other to be better versions of ourselves. I don’t foresee myself (or many of the people I personally know for that matter) to become the next great inspiration around the world. But I certainly hope that I  at least inspire my own kids to do their best. At the end of the day, as a parent, that’s the best I can hope for.

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