Interpersonal leadership is about inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. While the most effective strategic leaders think outside-in, the best interpersonal leaders take an inside-out approach to people. They enable others by giving them a structure or framework to guide their own thinking and action. They give or get them leverage to accelerate progress. And they give them confidence in their own motivation and strengths to fuel the spark of inspiration that’s already inside of them.

As I’ve written here before, the world needs three types of leaders – artistic, scientific, and interpersonal. Artistic leaders inspire by influencing feelings. Scientific leaders guide and inspire by influencing knowledge with their thinking and ideas. Interpersonal leaders, the focus of this particular article, lead other people.

The definition of leadership in the first sentence of this article is rooted in happiness. Happiness is good – actually three goods: doing good for others, doing things you are good at and doing good for you. Here are the connections:


  •  “meaningful” shared purpose – good for others
  •  “absolute best” – good at it
  • “rewarding” shared purpose – good for you


The challenge for interpersonal leaders is how to inspire and enable people to realize that together.

Take an inside-out approach to people. This is the opposite of the BRAVE approach which goes outside-in, moving from environment through values, attitudes and relationships to behaviors. Don’t get me wrong. Think outside-in. But lead interpersonally inside-out, starting with what really matters to the people you’re leading. They’re not going to be inspired by what matters to you. They’re going to be inspired by what matters to them. (Oh-by-the-way, the closer what matters to them matches what matters to you, the stronger your bond will be.)

Starting with that, then focus on structure, leverage, and confidence.


People appreciate some structure. While too much structure is stifling, just enough structure actually frees them to act within boundaries. Frameworks are the basic conceptual structures that people use to flesh out their ideas. They help people know where to start, and they focus and guide thinking about how to achieve purpose.

For example, jury instructions give juries frameworks for their thinking. As US Legal explains, a trial judge gives the jury instructions to “apply the law to the facts as he gives it to them; they are not to substitute their own judgment as to whether a different law should be applied or whether the law as has been explained to them is unjust.”

Frameworks are swim lanes for thinking. Use them to focus people on what matters most and enable thinking within boundaries.


As an interpersonal leader, one of the best ways you can enable others is by giving or getting them leverage. Sometimes you are the leverage, helping them think or act. Other times you’re a conduit for leverage, helping them assemble the resources they need to get done what they need to get done.

In either case, the key is not disempowering them. Once you’ve given someone else accountability for something, they are in charge. You should act as their first, best assistant. You’re their leverage. They’re not yours anymore.


“They can because they think they can.” Virgil.

Interpersonal leadership is not about earning peoples’ confidence in you. It’s about helping them have confidence in themselves. True inspiration comes from within. The things that are going to inspire others are already there. You just have to help them cut away the distractions to find those things.

Then, enabling is all about helping people recognize, understand and believe in their own strengths while helping them bridge their gaps. Trying to fix their gaps is generally a losing proposition and always a blow to their confidence. On the other hand, finding ways to take those gaps off the table by compensating for them allows people to focus on their strengths. It works better and it builds confidence.

Now you can inspire and enable others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose with confidence.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #611) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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