Would You Rather Follow a Tested Leader or an Inspiring Leader?

by  Jon Mertz  |  Leadership Development

This question has been on my mind lately. Which is better – a tested leader or an inspiring leader? So we put the question to our Lead Change community on Google+ and highlighted below are snapshots into their perspectives.

Tested Leader or Inspiring Leader?

Carey Green: No question… a tested leader. I’ve seen too many “inspirational” folks lead people off the cliff.

John E. Smith: Tested Leaders have the benefit of knowing their strengths and having proven their worth. Tested leaders sometimes have their roots deeply in what used to work and cannot bend or be flexible when change occurs. Inspiring leaders provide almost magical motivation to us, making us feel we can accomplish anything. Inspiring leaders also sometimes focus too much on the flash and not enough on the hard work of change.

I would rather have someone who blended the two traits….

Joy Guthrie: Difficult question. I think both traits are useful and desirable. There have been times when it’s been great to follow both (and best of all when the traits are in the same person). So, I think I’m copping out on answering this question by simply saying “yes.”

Mike Henry Sr.: Do I have to “follow?” I prefer to “join.” But I generally join tested leaders with inspiring goals. So I’m copping out with Joy.

William Matthies: That depends on the outcome of having been “tested.” One can be that and fail miserably or succeed spectacularly… However, having been “tested’ myself, many times, sometimes with good results, other times not so much, only knowing one has been tested is not enough to go on for me.

Johann Gauthier: Leading implies taking leaps of faith. I was watching a video from Rich Sheridan yesterday, where he emphasized the importance of following his gut and chasing his dream. This was at a time where he felt empty inside, lost, without joy. Having a clear “why” is key and the “how” becomes a team and collective focus and effort. Perhaps the leader won’t have all the answers but by mobilizing the right talent and experience she or he will be able to achieve daily success. Tested for me implies a person who has struggled to grow, is able to self-reflect and help grow others.

Tested and Inspiring: A Blend+

As you read through the perspectives, the struggle is clear. We don’t want to be led astray yet being a tested leader doesn’t necessarily mean a positive result on a new initiative. Balance is key.

Tested Leader or Inspiring LeaderAnother important point is risk. Leadership carries certain risk. Whether a tested or inspiring leader, there isn’t a certainty in success. In either case, what leaders have learned through their experiences, and how they apply what they learned, will lower the risk. Leading well means learning well, growing in skill, engagement, and mindset.

Mike Henry raises an important distinction, too. Follow versus Join. I like this. Whoever we “follow,” we need to do more. We cannot be passive team members. We need to be active in our work, perspective, and engagement. By doing this, we are joining in and making all stronger in the process. And, isn’t that where the real value is realized?

Independent leaders will not achieve as much as leaders who are joined by an active group of dedicated people. Whether tested or inspiring, leaders need to gain the trust of others so that they join in the mission.

Leaders carry a responsibility. Our responsibility is to focus others on what is possible. Our responsibility is to be clear on purpose. Our responsibility is to facilitate a culture for others to engage, solve, interact, and act. Whether tested or inspiring, leaders need to deliver on these elements at a minimum.

What is your perspective? Would you rather follow a tested or inspiring leader?


About The Author

Articles By jon-mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. At Thin Difference, Jon writes and facilitates a conversation on how to empower, challenge, and guide the next generation of leaders.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Ruth Schwartz  |  13 May 2014  |  Reply

I’m left hanging: Is it tested or inspiring? I certainly agree that join is preferable to follow but if you have to pick which will it be… tested or inspiring? Still a provocative question.

Jon Mertz  |  13 May 2014  |  Reply

Thank you, Ruth. It is an interesting element to consider, especially in our own leadership. I do believe one of the key elements is to ensure you have a mix of people involved to deliver both inspiring and tested. Ultimately, the team around you will make the difference. “Joining in” versus just following is the difference maker. Thanks! Jon

Jon Stallings  |  13 May 2014  |  Reply

I guess I would like both qualities. An inspiring leader can get you up an running with passion for the vision. But it is the tested leader that will see you through the hard difficult days.

Jon Mertz  |  13 May 2014  |  Reply

Thanks, Jon. Ideally, we would want both qualities but may not always get them. Using the talents of team members may be what makes the difference for a leader, inspiring or tested. Thanks! Jon

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