The Inspiration Code: How the Best Leaders Energize People Every Day

June 02, 2017


Kristi Hedges discusses one big question she posed—and the reaction to it by thousands of leaders over time—that inspired her to write The Inspiration Code.

As a leadership coach with a specialty in executive communications, Kristi Hedges is passionately interested in the power of leaders to impact their world through their presence. She delivers talks and leads workshops around the world on the topic. Here she discusses one big question she posed—and the reaction to it by thousands of leaders over time—that inspired her to write The Inspiration Code. It all started with a simple icebreaker: asking audience members to describe someone who has inspired them, at any time in their lives.


When I introduce this discuss-an-inspirational-person exercise, at first people reluctantly move toward their discussion partner, some with barely stifled its-one-of-those-workshops groans. But then they start talking about the people who have inspired them in their lives. That’s when I see it. Almost immediately, people’s faces start to light up. Smiles break out. The noise in the room is animated with excited voices. Hands gesture intently. Eyes shine.

When I ask if anyone wants to share their stories, hands shoot up. I’ve heard about first bosses, coaches, parents, colleagues, friends, teachers, managers, CEOs, strangers, family members, direct reports and co-workers. I’ve heard stories about everyday occurrences and ones that are so unique I’ll never forget them. The situations and people vary greatly, but I noticed great similarity in what these inspirational people did. And it wasn’t anything momentous or grand. The inspirational people mentioned communicated in certain, specific ways that made this kind of light shine in people’s faces even decades later.

I got more curious. I started wondering, how can we have more of that in our workplaces? What effect would that have? Companies are all about inspirational leadership and yet they are rarely discussing the behaviors that I’m hearing about from my audiences. They are spending millions of dollars on new visions and performance goals to get inspirational leadership behaviors into organizations, and yet, these efforts fall flat. There has to be a way to get closer to this true inspiration that has a lasting impact on others at work. And so I embarked on my own research to take a deeper dive into what really inspires others, and to outline the very behaviors – or sparks – that create this kind of enduring, energizing light.

Couldn’t we all use more of it? Turns out, all it takes is the right conversation.


The Conversations that Change our Lives

In our lives, we have lots of conversations. We have them one-on-one, in groups, in public settings, in meeting rooms, in auditoriums. We have them at home, at work, at the dentist, in line at the DMV, in the car, on walks, and sitting with a beer in the backyard. Nearly all of these conversations flit right in and out of our consciousness. We barely remember them, if at all.

But every once in a while, we have a conversation that changes our lives. You know the kind. It feels different. It crackles with energy, has a zing, or makes time stop. It’s deeper, more real, and lands just right. After we walk away, we’re not quite the same as we were before. It’s a conversation that changes how we think about ourselves, opens our minds to what we’re capable of doing, or shows us what’s possible. These conversations infuse us with hope, determination, and confidence. They lift our mood, bringing joy and lightness, or fuel our ambition. They validate our current choices, or inspire us to make new ones. These aren’t ordinary conversations, but conversations that count. They’re inspiring. And we don’t forget them. They marinate. We save them in the recesses of our minds. We recount them from time to time. We carry them around like talismans to fortify us for days, months, or our entire lives.

When people describe those who inspire them, they talk about these conversations that count. That’s how the inspiration happens. The right words, by the right person, at the right time. Those inspiring may not even realize what they’ve done. And yet, look what they’ve done.

We all have these conversations that swirl around in our heads. If we’re lucky, we have more, and in multiple settings and times in our lives. I look at my own story, and can precisely map the conversations that have inspired my decisions and shaped who I’ve become. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am without them.


After listening to hundreds of stories about inspiring people, it’s abundantly clear that the way we trigger inspiration is primarily through conversation. Yes, we can be inspired by a book or a song or a poem. However, inspiring people do it through interpersonal communication in all of its forms: language, nonverbal, and presence. But as we’ve seen, these aren’t just any conversations. In my research, certain definitive communications behaviors were present that made the conversations elicitors of inspiration. I’ve brought these elements together in a model I call the Inspire Path.

Inspire path conversations happen when we communicate in a way that is present, personal, passionate and purposeful. These four factors greatly enhance our inspirational effect. Do these all have to occur simultaneously? No. Though, many inspirational conversations do involve most elements in one form or another.

Further, I named this model a path because it’s a passage with movement, both for the one inspiring and the one being inspired. There’s no magic formula or predetermined end point. It’s not a quid pro quo. Part of being an inspiring person is that we’re doing it because we believe it’s the right way of being, and will open up positive outcomes.

You’ll find the book organized around each of these elements of the inspire path model, breaking down the behaviors in each section. When we’re inspiring, we are:

  1. Present: We’re focused on the person in front of us, not distracted by the swirl of our day, visibly stressed, or beholden to our agenda. We keep an open mind, and let conversations flow.
  2. Personal: We’re authentic and real, and listen generously. We notice what’s true about others and help them find their potential.
  3. Passionate: We infuse energy, and manage this as one of our greatest tools. We blend logic and emotion, and show conviction through our presence.
  4. Purposeful: We are purposeful and purpose-full. We are intentional and willing to have courageous discussions about purpose, and role model how to live into our own.

Now if you read these at first and think they sound broad, you’re right; they are. Consider these four areas categories of thought. I’ve written the book to take these amorphous concepts and define them at a useful and practical level. Because even though the ideas are simple, i.e. be passionate, the act of showing passion is anything but straightforward. If it were easy, we wouldn’t be sitting through so many lifeless meetings led by robotic presenters. Making ideas actionable is what I do as a coach, and I’ve had the benefit of years of application of these concepts with my clients. In The Inspiration Code, I’ve assembled a guide that utilizes a mix of concepts with proven actions to guide you in your journey to be a more inspiring communicator. It’s not the only way. But for my clients, and now hopefully you, it’s an effective way.

Excerpted from The Inspiration Code by Kristi Hedges
Copyright © 2017 by Kristi Hedges
All rights reserved. 
No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.



Kristi Hedges is a nationally recognized expert in leadership communications and founder of The Hedges Company. She coaches CEOs and senior executives at leading global companies, and her workshops and keynotes have reached thousands of leaders in various industries, from the Fortune 500 to the United States government to nonprofits. Kristi writes about leadership for Forbes.com and is regularly featured in publications like The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and Entrepreneur, as well as on programs such as the BBC and CNBC. She is also the author of THE POWER OF PRESENCE and a teaching faculty member at Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership.

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