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How to become an inspirational leader, and what to avoid

Sarah Bonau (Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Pecs, Pecs, Hungary)

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Article publication date: 12 June 2017




The leadership style of inspirational leadership has not gained substantial research attention. Studies have found inspirational leadership to be particularly relevant for practitioners. The purpose of this paper is to analyse the theoretical aspects of inspirational leadership and present practical steps for applying the theory.


First, inspirational leadership is defined in the context of other leadership theories, with particular emphasis on the vision that is central to inspirational leadership. Consequently, effective leadership behaviour is contrasted against management actions, to then define main areas leaders should focus on. Moreover, this paper outlines specific actions to be implemented in these focus areas.


Comparing the different perspectives on inspirational leadership theory, it becomes evident that self-awareness and authenticity are the main foundations for inspiring followers and implementing a shared vision.

Practical implications

A tool is presented for practical implementation that allows leaders to measure different characteristics of inspirational leadership and to assess their progress in these areas. In this context, this paper discusses the critical role of authentic behaviour and the challenge of showing the right level of authenticity as a leader. Special attention is given to authentic leadership development, and how organisations must work to avoid over-dependency on inspirational leaders.


The ideas outlined in this paper serve as a guide for leaders to practise inspirational leadership.



The author would like to acknowledge valuable feedback and helpful comments on previous versions of this manuscript from Christopher Schmidt; from the Editor, Dr Geoff Sheard; and from three anonymous reviewers.


Bonau, S. (2017), "How to become an inspirational leader, and what to avoid", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 36 No. 5, pp. 614-625.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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