Inspiration vs Motivation

June 28th, 2013 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Inspiration vs Motivation

ML KingAs I’ve been writing a fair amount about leadership of late, it’s no surprise that many of the questions I have received are related to this topic. Recently, a question that caught my attention was one asking about motivation – specifically, how do we motivate people in our role as leaders?

My answer is very simply, we don’t. Leaders often fail to understand a simple fact of human nature: people are intrinsically motivated beings. They come to work for two reasons: to earn the economic means to support themselves and their family, and to make a difference. And they seek to understand how and why they are making a difference in the workplace. Motivating others is an outside-in approach to leadership that is not sustainable over time because people don’t need motivation. They need inspiration. Inspiring people is an inside-out approach to leadership that is entirely self-sustaining, as people strive to reach their fullest potential.

So, the real question is more, how do we inspire people? We inspire people by offering a vision – something to believe in – a future, that does not yet exist. And we clearly articulate this vision over and over again, until we inspire those that we lead to want to contribute to that vision. By connecting what people are already passionate about to a greater purpose, and then providing them with an opportunity to live it – that’s what inspiring people looks like. That’s the leadership formula – vision > communication > inspire contribution. It’s very powerful.

A very clear and easy to understand example of how this formula works is to look at the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King’s words always spoke of a reality that had yet to come. He spoke of racial and human equality at a time when the Jim Crow era was still very much alive and well, and racial equality was only a dream. He spoke so eloquently, so passionately, and so frequently of a world where equality for all people was present, that his vision seemed real. He painted such a clear and vivid picture of his vision, that people were so inspired, and felt so confident that this world would soon be upon them, that they were moved to contribute and to participate. And through the contribution and participation of tens of millions of people, racial inequality as we knew it, changed.

Dr. King presented a vision; he clearly and repeatedly articulated that vision, which lead people to want to contribute; which changed the world. That’s leadership. He did not motivate anyone. Those who contributed were already motivated. They simply needed to be inspired. They needed to see a vision. Leadership inspires; people are already motivated. Understanding the difference is key to becoming an effective leader.