Your ability to inspire starts with you. Your ability to motivate starts with the other person.
When it comes to leadership topics, the words “inspiring” and “motivating” are regularly said together as if they were actually one word: “I want to be an ‘inspiringandmotivating’ leader”. While both attributes complement each other and are critical to unlocking the potential of your people and creating success in your business, they are, in fact, very different.
The primary distinction is who the focus is on. Your ability to inspire starts with you, while your ability to motivate starts with the other person!
Being “inspiring” starts with you
inspiring: having an animating or exalting effect; encouraging, or making you feel you want to do something
Think about one person who inspires you. Why do they inspire you?
Most likely, there is something specific about them that just resonates with you. Maybe it is how they navigated their way through life to get to where they are. Or the indescribable presence that they exude when they step into a room. Or maybe the impact that they have had on the world. Whatever it is, there is something unique about them that you connect with, which makes you feel inspired. That feeling of inspiration is what makes you want to aspire for something greater in life.
Similarly, your ability to inspire others will not come from any single title or award that you get, but how you make people feel. That is based on who you are. Therefore, the way to inspire others is truly simple - by being your unique, authentic self and consistently sharing that with the world. Simple, yes, but also a regular challenge that my clients experience, especially in business situations. Fear of how others may react to you truly being yourself is totally natural, but not necessary or helpful. Go back to the person you thought of who inspires you. How does their authenticity affect how much they inspire you? Do you feel like they are putting on a persona or are you inspired by who they truly are?
Remember, inspiration starts with you and how you make others feel when they feel that connection to your unique self. So if you aren’t being your true self, then how can you inspire others?
Being “motivating” starts with the other person
motivating: being able to make someone eager to do something or to influence someone to behave in a particular way
By definition, when you are motivated, you want to take action. If inspiration makes you feel warm and fuzzy, motivation is the fuel that moves you forward. This comes down to the things that influence you. While this could be related to other people, it doesn’t have to. The type and impact of influencers differ for every single person and comes down to the underlying belief systems and thought processes that drive us.
For example, if you love to win (a la Michael Jordan) and believe that winning in life is the most important thing, then being reminded that taking an action will move you towards a win will compel you to take that action. More so than being reminded that you will be helping others. Conversely, if being a servant leader is a strong value of yours and you thrive on helping other people, then focusing on all the people that your action will help will likely motivate you more than just focusing on you winning.
The key here is remembering that what motivates you is not the same as what motivates someone else. So, if you want to move your people to action, you have to know what their unique motivating fuel is and help them connect their work to that.
Being both a more inspiring leader and a more motivating leader
Just because you are an inspiring leader, does not mean that you know how to move people to action. Inspiration without motivation will have your people wanting to aspire for more, but likely doing more daydreaming than taking impactful action.
On the other hand, just because you are able to motivate a team, does not mean that you inspire them to want to be better than they are every day. This may look like a team who are getting stuff done, but their work is not exceptional and they aren’t necessarily excited about staying with you for the long-term.
One without the other is okay, but is not fantastic.
So… how can you be both an inspiring leader and motivational leader?
Become a more inspiring leader by:
Knowing what makes you unique. If you don’t know who you are, how can anyone else? A great place to start is by listing what you are great at (your strengths), what you love to do (your passions), and what is most important to you in life (your values). Then identify moments where you remember expressing your strengths, passions, and values in their fullest. How did that feel? Where do you excel?
Sharing your unique self with people around you. You know what makes you unique and remember how amazing it is when you express your unique self. So do more of that. If it’s a little scary, start slow. Do you like composing music, but are scared to share with others for fear of judgement? Find a community of scared composers online and share it with them. Scared that your interest in reiki, energy work, and crystal magic may be a little “woo woo” for your conservative workplace? Share an interesting article with your colleagues and start a conversation. You just may inspire someone else to embrace and share their inner-“woo”.
Telling your story. You can’t inspire people if they don’t know who you are. So find forums to share your story in-person, on video, or even written. Whatever resonates with you. If you don’t tell your story, someone else will so you might as well retain control and do it yourself.
Become a more motivating leader by:
Learning what motivates each person on your team. Remember trying to figure out algebra in school? What would you do when you were completely lost? Ask a question! It’s no different now. The best way to figure out what motivates each person on your team is to ask them: "What motivates you?". "What gets you excited?". "What have you thoroughly enjoyed working on over the past 6 months and why?". (Tip: If you work with people who just don’t know, try the same strengths, passions, and values exercise from above as a prompt).
Learning what motivates your team as a whole. Individual motivation is one thing, team motivations bring in interpersonal dynamics. Reflect on what situations bring your team to life and also ask the team directly: “What projects are we excited about over the next few months?”. "When do we work at our best and why?".
Adapting your communication based on your newfound knowledge. Insight without action is interesting but useless. Take your learnings and adapt what you say and do with your people to motivate them. If recognition is a motivating factor, remind them of the visibility and importance of their work across the department.
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