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How Do You Know A Genuine Leader From A Pseudo Inspirational Leader? Look For These 5 Signs

Updated: Nov 28, 2019

Inspirational leadership can be a sharp double-edged sword, with a potential immoral and unethical dimension that could be exploited by an unscrupulous leader, inflicted on naive and unsuspecting followers according to Air Force Colonel Mark Homrig.

Who could forget Jim Jones of the People’s Temple; very charismatic and expressed a lofty vision that eventually led to the murder-suicide of over 800 followers in 1978, according to the PBS documentary, “Jonestown -- The Life and Death of People’s Temple.” Hitler, who appealed to the values of the German people, was very charismatic, offered a transcendent vision, and frequently encouraged his followers to follow his dream of a great Germany. However, his goal led to ruin rather than the betterment of his followers and his country.

Many leaders on the surface appear to be interested in their team success and sincerely dedicated to seeing those beneath them, not only achieve organizational objectives but also reach their fullest potential in all their endeavors. They appear, in many ways, to captivate and embody the characteristics of an inspirational leader with great intentions, but their real qualities over time slowly emerge. 

Leaders with hidden agendas always surface when they see no value in helping others that don’t show promise to provide them with immediate returns. Their counterfeit attempts to simulate caring for subordinates get exposed, and their real agenda is revealed.

What are the signs? According to Dr. Bill Donahue, here are the signs that you should be looking for:

1) Self-advancement

This is easy to assess. When a leader always cares more about growing their own platform instead of helping others build theirs, it is a telltale sign.

2) Decision-making is always pragmatic.

What works for the leader transcends what is best for the team or the organization.

3) Ethical standards are compromised.

This may be overt or subtle or even done out of ignorance, or the speed in making a decision. Nonetheless, it is a sign that things are bad. Employees or team members are treated with condescension or ignored, shortcuts are taken, and due diligence is ignored, and compliance issues in HR or in legal matters are given lip service.

4) Strategy takes priority over relationship.

In other words, regardless of the damage a decision or path may do to the team, as long as we “win” or “realize the vision” or can say “mission accomplished,” the collateral damage is chalked up simply, as the cost of doing business.

5) Everything has a price tag

These leaders believe they can “buy” everything – trust, votes, loyalty, performance, followers, relationships, customers, members, silence, and compliance with their demands. Often money, severance packages (hush money, in some cases), promotions, perks, and other “incentives,” are used to move people in the direction of the leader desires – even out of the organization.

Followers who fear their leaders are unlikely to challenge what their leaders say, or what they think; their leaders expect implicit compliance. Besides, these fake leaders neither genuinely seek nor truly accept the input of their people they control information and resources, use their power to keep followers in a subservient position, and when they do seek opinions and ideas from their people, it is usually for impression management purposes. On the other hand, genuine leaders:  

•Envision a more desirable future

•Seeks consensus and is emphatic

•Respects differences and develops independent followers

•Unites through internalization of mission and values

•Is self-sacrificing and trustworthy

Inspirational leaders inspire people to believe that the impossible is possible, create change in individuals and social systems through a collective vision, and work more for the betterment of the organization and their people. Their intention is always to improve. Inspirational leadership like Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Indra Nooyi of Pepsi, all have those characteristics. 

Inspirational leaders can capture people’s attention effortlessly, and influence the lives of many people. It is an effective way to elicit change and get things accomplished by enlisting the help of your people, but the intentions of the leader are the problem, and that results in the negative side of inspirational leadership.

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