Interview by Abigail Harris, Director of Content, Global Leaders in Law

Global Leaders in Law: What does it mean to be a truly inspirational and influential leader?

Alex Lazarus: Great question! For me, a truly inspirational and influential leader of contemporary and future relevance is, what I call a “leader with a mighty heart”. One that’s able to strike a balance of leading with might, ambition and accountability, as well as the heart that cares about people and the Planet. One of my favourite business thinkers and a colleague of mine, Hubert Joly, former Chairman and CEO of BestBuy does a great job exploring this in his upcoming book “The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for The Next Era of Capitalism”.

But let’s start with the basics. Did you know that psychologists in the last century had a lower appreciation for the concept of inspiration? It was only in 2003 that they measured it as a psychological construct. Since then, it seems we can’t get enough of it. Today, it ranks top 100 words on Instagram. Type inspiration and you get over 180 million instant results. All over the world, right this very moment, people intentionally seek it, create it, give and receive it. Inspiration is not only a universally desired human experience now, but it’s also what we expect from leaders if they, in turn, expect us to follow them.

Global Leaders in Law: What does it mean to be inspired?

Alex Lazarus: When we are truly inspired, we tend to rise above our average selves, we stand a greater chance of being moved out of the mundane, mediocre and out of the grip of autopilot and limiting beliefs. Feeling inspired is a breath of fresh air! It’s the spring in our step. It awakens a sense of agency, a can-do attitude and a novel possibility. When we are inspired, we are braver and more resourceful. Leaders and entire organisations that evoke this powerful personal and intimate emotion in people are sources of a significant influence capable of generating customer loyalty, repeated business and word-of-mouth advocacy. “Kindness Sells”, a title of a recent article in the “Entrepreneur” says it all.

GLL: How does this resonate with legal leaders?

Alex Lazarus: Very much so. In recent research, we asked GCs to describe an exceptional legal leader and what the world requires GCs to rise up to? The overwhelming majority look up to world leaders, within politics and business, who actively demonstrate a “people-first” mindset with an outlook towards a sustainable positive change on a community and global level. This marks a significant departure from the command-and-control leadership paradigm. Instead, the GCs admire leaders who actively demonstrate holistic and humanistic values such as respect for people’s circumstances, deep connectedness, humility, honesty, empathy, patience and compassion as key leadership traits. Other leadership characteristics singled out as required in the current complex times are positivity, charisma and being inclusive.

GLL: Can inspiration help leaders in leading in times of crisis?

Alex Lazarus: Absolutely. It is a great resource, but it comes with responsibility. Ask yourself what you wish to inspire, whom, and to what effect. Let it be a part of your why, your leadership narrative, the strategy and the vision.

In tough times, the notion that leadership has the power to elicit extraordinary effort from ordinary people really rings true. Even before the pandemic, our achievement-obsessed society and growth-focused corporate KPIs pushed people beyond their coping limits at times. For the price of trading their soul, people expected at least some leadership decency. If their efforts meant something to someone and they felt that they were supporting an inspiring mission, this was often enough for them to stick around and to give their best shot for the greater good.

GLL: What happens in the absence of inspiration?

Alex Lazarus: Firstly, we have to acknowledge that today’s employees and Generation Z coming through the organisational doors expect to be inspired by the leaders’ actions and behaviours. According to research, they seek transformational leaders and walk away from jobs mandated by people they don’t respect.

In the absence of leadership civility and strong moral character, people get cynical, their support for the leader weakens. Now, add to this the presence of social media, which has democratised opinion-making, you can see that people have an easy outlet to express disapproval. One untoward behaviour or hearsay loaded with reputational risk is a time bomb a click away from getting out of the building spreading like wildfire. It goes viral reaching consumers, suppliers and opinion-makers. Anything that hints of arrogance, exclusion and outdated views leaves people uninspired. From there, the road from apathy, to anger and brand abandonment is short. A recent example of this is Arcadia retailer. Whatever our view of its collapse, one journalist summarised it succinctly here: ‘Generation Z have changed culture for all of us. They have no time for a billionaire who expects to stand on the deck of his yacht and shout into a mobile phone, rather than listen to what they have to say”. Leadership matters, but what matters more is leaders’ behaviours.

GLL: What does inspiration in action looks like?

Alex Lazarus: I encapsulate this in our methodology of The 3 x Cs: Choice-Character-Connection. If you want to inspire people, hold yourself accountable to demonstrate high business acumen as well as high regard for humanity through your choices, through how you express yourself and how you connect with everyone in the ecosystem.

The pandemic exacerbated our awareness that leading on a promise was wearing thin. A client of mine, Gareth Ellis-Unwin, the Oscar-winning film producer for “The King’s Speech” agrees: “Good role modelling is key to good leadership. I don’t think you can expect people to look at us as leaders and take the mental leap to where they think we should be.” Whether on or off the movie set, Gareth believes it’s vital to be compassionate and open-minded for people to feel safe to come to you with problems and ideas.

Gary Ridge, CEO of WD-40, shares similar views and is an excellent example of a leader with a mighty heart, who sets ambitious goals, but people always come first. Ridge not only increased the company’s market cap from $ 250 million to over $2.5 billion, but he also wrote a book titled “Helping People Win at Work”. When given the opportunity, he continues to praise all employees for their deep commitment to creating a tribal culture, where people are connected, care about others’ wellbeing and “go home feeling fulfilled for having done work that helps them express their sense of purpose.”

GLL: What advice would you give to leaders who want to become more influential and inspirational leaders? 

Alex Lazarus: Approach this as a SMART goal. It is not a one-trick-pony case where you address people or do a press interview using inspirational words and jargons. Truly inspirational leaders are lasting influencers. They inspire responsibly. They know that the ability to inspire can be their secret weapon, but if misused, all you get is a loose cannon instead of the straight arrow that hits the target to move things forward. Being an inspirational leader requires consistency, hard work and humility in the service of people and sound business decisions.

Reflect on these three levels of inspiration:

1. Become inspired 

Are you inspired? A jaded leader is hard to follow, so reflect on your daily habits, inner dialogue, take care of your mental and physical health, learn something new, add your voice to causes close to your heart, reach out to people who energise and motivate you.

2. Be a source of inspiration 

Be known for your integrity, keep your word, build a compelling vision and invite others to co-create it with you. Walk the talk and consistently role model good behaviours and if you had a hard day, be open and talk about it with your team, don’t be afraid to be real. You don’t have to be perfect, but remember that everything you do and don’t do says something about you. Be positive and present and communicate frequently (especially in times of WFH). Be mindful of how you frame challenging situations, and how you speak about “challenging people” and show empathy in action. Believe in people who don’t yet believe in themselves.

3. Build an inspiring environment 

Exceptional leaders build an environment where the leader is not the only source of inspiration. Quite the opposite, it is the business’s core purpose, the governance, the culture, and espoused values that inspire people intrinsically. Create a culture that reflects your views on what a broader society should look like; where people feel safe and have a sense of growth, autonomy, ownership of decisions and contributions. Provide learning and development opportunities that build an entrepreneurial mindset, self-leadership and relationship skills to boost people’s employability in uncertain times. Ask employees what they need to feel inspired to give their best? Ask suppliers and your customers what the company can do better to meet their needs and to stay exceptional.

Alex Lazarus: In brief, an inspirational and influential leader is synonymous with being the force for good. Alan Mullaly, President and CEO of Ford who has been credited with an epic turnaround of the business, summarises this well by explaining his mission:

“The purpose of life is to love and be loved, in that order. To serve is to live. Seek to understand before seeking to be understood. It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice. By working together with others, you can make the most positive contribution to most people. Lifelong learning and continuous improvement. Respect everyone, we are all creatures of God, and worthy to be loved. Develop one integrated life to deliver your life’s work.”*

Meet an influential and inspirational leader

I will be continuing the conversation in the third episode of our Leading with Influence webinar in partnership with Global Leaders in Law and Morrison & Foerster. Hubert Joly, former Chairman and CEO of BestBuy will share his journey to success and his views on leadership. Joly will be joined by Tessa Schwartz of MoFo. We will explore how traditional leadership rules and practices must be transformed and challenged to increase impact and become true leaders with influence.

If you are a leader in the legal profession, this webinar may be of interest. Register here:

* Extract from “Work is Love Made Visible” by Marshall Goldsmith, Frances Hesselbein, Sarah McArthur).

If you would like to hear more about leadership events run by Lazarus & Maverick, please email: