Finding Your Inspiration - Lessons from Leadership Gurus

April 12, 2022

I’m someone who is inspired by the words of great leaders and experts in the areas of leadership, psychology, and behavior. A good, inspirational message helps me maintain focus on doing the right things and not getting pulled into the “busyness” mindset that can derail success. My favorite leadership gurus include Steven Covey, Daniel Goleman, Simon Sinek, Daniel Pink, Dan Rockwell, Malcolm Gladwell, and John Maxwell. Of these, John Maxwell is my ultimate go-to person when I need inspiration.

John Maxwell literally wrote the book on leadership (actually, he’s written about 100 of them). His writings are inspirational to me because, as most highly effective and inspiring leaders do, he breaks it down into eloquently stated, simple concepts. When I read John Maxwell I’m ready to go out and be the best leader I can be for my teams.

Here's a few of my favorite John Maxwell quotes, and how they inspire or guide me.

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.

Leaders have a vision for where their organization or team is headed and can clearly articulate that vision to inspire others to make the vision a reality. They help each member of the team understand how they fit into the bigger picture and why their individual efforts are important to achieving the overall objectives. 

Words are not enough, however. A leader can’t just talk the talk, they have to walk the walk, and be willing to do what is needed to position their team for success.

The most important thing a great leader does is develop other leaders. They feel a sense of duty to encourage others to reach their full potential and show them the way to achieving their own success.

People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.

The power of body language cannot be understated. Some of you will remember a keynote address given by Vanessa Van Edwards at the CCA Annual Meeting in 2017. In an article published by Toastmasters International she and others share insights on the power of body language to presentations and communication. In the article, she points out that the first impression people have of us when we are delivering an important message starts before we say a word. The impression people get from reading attitude can be far more impactful than the actual words you speak.

When delivering an important or difficult message, you HAVE to do it in person (or if that’s not feasible in a remote work environment, by video). If you are sharing factual information, email or a memo usually is fine. However, when someone is reading your words on a page rather than hearing and seeing you speak to them, they will read the attitude they have toward you and/or the subject rather than the attitude you are feeling when you write it. Or worse, they will correctly feel the (bad or annoyed) attitude you had when you wrote it.

Get the attitude, body language, and tone right, and the actual words become less important. You can flub the words and still get it right if the non-verbal signals are on point.

“The highway of life is filled with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.”

Sometimes leadership quotes catch my attention simply because they make me chuckle. This one paints an impactful image of the consequences of indecision for the squirrel who can’t make up their mind whether to turn back or sprint faster across the road. Fortunately, most of the things many of us tend to fret over incessantly don’t have such dire consequences as they do for an indecisive squirrel.

Actuaries are analytical problem solvers. We are trained to look at things from different angles and work through a variety of solutions to find the best one. If we aren’t careful, this can lead to analysis paralysis - the inability to make a decision due to the availability of too much information or overthinking the problem.

Good leaders learn to balance the need for thoughtful consideration of an array of possible outcomes with the responsibility to guide their team forward and execute on the right plan expediently. Those who lack decisiveness may find they lose out on opportunities because someone else got going while they were getting ready to get ready (another Maxwell-ism).

“Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.”

Things will inevitably happen that frustrate, anger, hurt, inconvenience, or embarrass us. That’s life, and sometimes it hands you lemons. You can, however, decide whether to let them sour your perspective or add some sugar and make lemonade. The one thing you are always in control of is your attitude.

The more you can maintain an internal locus of control – a belief that success or failure is within your own control and not the result of chance or external factors – the better you are able to react in a manner that positions you to achieve your goals. Things are going to happen that distract you from pursuing your goals and derail the best laid plans. You can choose to believe that an event is equivalent to its outcome or reject that notion and search for a way to turn adversity into an opportunity.

Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.

Those who know me well know I’ve lived through a tremendous amount of change over the last six years.  Out of some heartbreaking changes opportunity was born. When opportunity knocks, answer the door and choose to grow. Because, failing to act is also a choice, and it has consequences.

  • What if I didn’t say yes to my first really big volunteer leadership role, because I was afraid I wasn’t experienced enough? I might not have the wonderful, fulfilling job I do today.

  • What if I didn’t say yes to leaving behind the comfort and familiarity of my home state (after nearly five decades) and moving to Ohio? I’d miss out on being with the love of my life and joining a new family that has welcomed me with open arms.

  • What if I didn’t say yes when asked to serve as CCA President because I wasn’t sure I was ready to add this time commitment to an already full schedule? I’d have missed out on the opportunity to be part of the history of our profession serving alongside four other dynamic women leaders this year.

If we have the choice to believe we can or believe we can’t, why not choose to believe we can? When the world changes, opportunity awaits. Grow with it.