Monday, February 23, 2009

An enthusiastic person tends to inspire enthusiasm in others

After writing this post this morning, I went looking for a book I'd read by John Adair, a former soldier in the British Army who had a long career as a management professor and leadership consultant.

In 2004, Adair published a book titled "The Inspirational Leader," in which he explains why enthusiasm is often necessary to lead.


An enthusiastic person tends to inspire enthusiasm in others. At times we all need encouragement.

"There is a point with me," wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins, "in matters of any size when I must absolutely have encouragement as much as crops need rain."

The effect of a change of leader -- an enthusiastic one in place of one lacking any powers of inspiring others -- can seem quite magical, even where the work in question is drudgery or toil.

Xenophon (pictured above), a Greek general, gives us two examples. His first comes from his observations of life aboard the Greek war galleys known as triremes, with three tiers of rowers drawn from the lowest class in Athens.

To get the best out of these oarsmen... called for the kind of uplifting yet demanding leadership that produces enthusiastic teamwork resulting in great performance. Xenophon writes of the rowing-masters who could do it as if they were conductors of a winning chorus:

On a warship, when the ship is on the high seas, and the rowers must toil all day to reach port, some rowing-masters can say and do the right thing to sharpen the men's spirits and make them work with a will. Other rowing-masters are so lacking in intelligence that it takes them more than twice the time to finish the same voyage. Here they land bathed in sweat, with mutual congratulations, rowing-master and oarsmen. There they arrive with dry skin; they hate their master and he hates them.

In the words of [conductor] Sir Georg Solti, "In my enthusiasm and intensity I will often push people to the limits of their capabilities -- and that must entail a certain degree of risk. The great thing is that the risk pays off when that person suddenly finds something in themselves they didn't know was there."