Become a Chief Inspiration Officer

The 7 secrets of motivational leadership

November 1, 2009

Earlier this year The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman lamented "the absence of inspirational leadership" in the business world. The tendency to become complacent during tough economic times or blame others for your own missteps undermines your credibility as a leader whether you run one small office or own a brokerage with hundreds of agents. During research for Fire Them Up (Wiley, 2007), I interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs and managers who deeply understand—and speak—the language of motivation. I’ve come up with seven techniques you can adopt in your business practice to INSPIRE your team to reach new heights of achievement. Here’s how to become a chief inspiration officer:

Ignite Your Enthusiasm.

You cannot inspire unless you’re inspired yourself. When I asked Chris Gardner, whose homelessness-to-millionaire story inspired the film The Pursuit of Happyness, what gave him the spirit to keep going, his response was profound: "Find something you love to do so much, you can’t wait for the sun to rise to do it all over again." Dig deep to reconnect with the reason you entered real estate and share your passion with others.

Navigate the Way.

Inspiring leaders craft and deliver a specific, consistent, and memorable vision. Visions are different than goals. A goal is the byproduct of an inspiring vision. A vision is a concise description of what the world will look like if your product or service succeeds. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer once said that shortly after he joined the company, he was having second thoughts because he considered himself to be a bean counter for a startup. When founder Bill Gates described his vision of a "computer on every desk in every home," Ballmer reconsidered. The power of a vision set everything in motion.

Sell the Benefit.

Always remember, it’s not about you; it’s about them. Your associates are asking themselves, "Why should I care?" Every decision, action, or initiative you communicate about the state of the business must answer that question. Associates who understand the why before the how will be more confident about their contribution to your office’s success.

Paint a Picture.

Inspiring leaders tell memorable stories. Alicia Dunston has been a real estate practitioner for more than 30 years in Monterey County, Calif. She often tells her associates the story of placing a young couple in a new home 18 years earlier. The woman told Dunston that she had been living with her husband and child in a garage and now they were now living the American dream. It was a profound moment that Dunston never forgot. Stories like this reflect your commitment to your clients and remind your salespeople of the deep emotional connections they can make.

Invite Openness and Participation.

Inspiring leaders bring colleagues and customers into the process of building the company. This is especially important when trying to motivate young people. Solicit input, listen for feedback, and actively incorporate what you hear. Studies confirm that businesses are more successful when employees feel that information is shared openly and that they are being asked to contribute to the success of the organization.

Reinforce Optimism.

Inspiring leaders tend to brim with optimism. I’ve spoken to real estate pros who have been in the business for decades. Each has witnessed three or four downturns and, every time, they benefitted from the recovery that followed. Remind your team that this too shall pass. Optimism is contagious.

Encourage Potential.

Inspiring leaders praise people and invest in them emotionally. British entrepreneur Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin brands, has said that when you praise people, they flourish; criticize them and they shrivel. Praise is the easiest way to connect with people. When people receive genuine praise, their doubt diminishes and their spirits soar.

Carmine Gallo is a Pleasanton, Calif.-based communications coach and popular keynote speaker. He is the author of several books including Fire Them Up and his latest, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. Visit him online at