Last year, we introduced a Master Class in Emotional Intelligence. As I’ve been preparing for the final session of 12 – on the topic of Influence & Inspiration – I encountered something that blew my mind.

It’s an integrated leadership model that brings together all of the emotional intelligence competencies, and layers it with mindfulness ones. But it’s not simply a model that someone came up with; it was based on research. And, interestingly, that research was done on followers rather than leaders, and was focused on what inspires them. After all, being inspirational might just be the most critical skill of an effective leader.

The interviews, the work and the model was all done by Bain & Company, the global consulting firm. Here is a summary of how they did it.

To understand what inspires people, we surveyed all employees, not just formal leaders or HR experts. Why? People at all levels of an organization seek inspiration. Employees can judge best what inspires them. It’s the collective voice of all those customers or followers that matters in validating which characteristics are inspiring, not what leaders say they do or what human resources managers assert is important.

Because inspiration is subjective, it helps to understand the basic shape of the analysis. Starting with an initial survey of 2,000 Bain employees, we asked respondents to rate how inspired they were by their colleagues. We also asked them to rate what was important in contributing to that sense of inspiration. To do this, we selected a list of attributes to test based on data gathered from multiple disciplines—including psychology, neurology, sociology, organizational behavior and management science—as well as extensive interviews.

Using followers’ responses, we conducted a conjoint analysis (typical in consumer research) to assess the relevance of a range of attributes contributing to respondents’ feelings of inspiration.

The result was a set of 33 characteristics that are statistically significant in inspiring others. Bain then used this set of behaviors to create the Bain Inspirational Leadership model:

Bain Leadership Model.gif

I realize that the image is hard to read so if you’d like to dig deeper into all 33 of the attributes, here is the detailed version from Bain.

Two of my key takeaways from their work are the following:

  1. Of the 33 characteristics, virtually all of them are either specific emotional intelligence competencies or outcomes of learning them.

  2. Bain’s research concluded that having strengths in only four of the attributes were enough for a leader to be considered inspirational.

But perhaps my biggest takeaway was that their research found that the most important attribute of the 33 was centeredness. According to Bain,

“Centeredness is a state of greater mindfulness, achieved by engaging all parts of the mind to be fully present. It improves one’s ability to stay level-headed, cope with stress, empathize with others and listen more deeply. Centeredness is the nexus of the other 32 elements and a mandatory skill. [It] is a precondition to using one’s leadership strengths effectively.”

To me, this was another mind-blower. And, needless to say, it will once again be something I share with our Master Class participants…as well as other members in Junto and beyond.