Recently I spoke about leading change in challenging times to a group of child welfare professionals. As I was saying goodbye to one leader in particular who stood out for the difficult challenge she was facing, I experienced a truly ‘aha’ moment. This leader told me of her renewed commitment to push local government and law enforcement officials to address the growing problem of heroin abuse in her Southeast Indiana community. Her passion and the potential impact of her work impressed and humbled me. And when I thanked her for working to make her community better, she also surprised me by responding, “You inspired me.”

This may sound funny coming from someone who makes a living as a Certified Master for The Leadership Challenge®, but it’s not a natural state for me to want to be inspiring. I want people to see their own potential and I want others to be inspired.  In fact, when I’m facilitating a workshop I spend the majority of time talking about leaders who inspire others and sharing ways that the leaders in the group can do that, too. But as a person who tends toward introversion, I don’t feel the need to be front and center, or an inspiration to others. I don’t aspire to give rousing performances for an audience.

That said, one of my core beliefs is that people want to contribute to something greater than themselves. I do want to help leaders help others get to where they feel that they are a part of something bigger—to be inspired by that bigger picture. So, in the end, the gift I received in my ‘aha’ moment was a reminder that I do indeed have to work at inspiring others. It also reminded me of what I’ve learned from Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner: that we inspire others when we’re inspired.

While we may think that the stereotypical “charismatic leader” may be the only one capable of inspiring people, we each have a passion that we can tap into in order to enlist people in what we believe can make a difference in the world. Charisma isn’t limited to the great leaders like Martin Luther King. You show charisma when you talk about something you truly care about—be it work, a political issue, your children, or even a favorite vacation. You show charisma when you speak—with conviction—about the meaning of your work, your world. 

The challenge for all of us as leaders is to ask ourselves, “What am I passionate about and how can I deploy that passion to make the world better?”

This article first appeared in The Leadership Challenge Newsletter at