“To Motivate or to Inspire…That is the Question”

Can you really motivate someone, or is motivation an internal issue?  If you are inspired to do something, that gets to your very being, are you more likely to achieve, than if someone is doing their best to motivate you?  Diane Janovsky, Strategic Partner at HPISolutions has some great insights to the idea of Motivation vs. Inspiration.  Enjoy this week’s Power Idea.

People are the most valuable resource in any business, so one of the most important roles for leaders is to create an environment where employees consistently perform at their full capability. Studies have shown that average workers can meet the basic requirements of their job by using only 20 to 30 percent of their ability, while high performers apply themselves at 80 to 90 percent. What can a leader do to close that gap in discretionary effort and increase the number of high performing employees, thereby improving business results? Textbooks on the fundamentals of management say that it’s a matter of providingmotivation. In reality, it is inspiration that creates the highest levels of employee engagement and commitment (HBR).

Merriam-Webster defines motivation as “the act or process of giving someone a reason for doing something; a force or influence that causes someone to do something”.  It is an external stimulus that moves people to action by appealing to their rational and logical mind. This is very much a “carrot and stick” approach where positive incentives or the threat of negative consequences are used to achieve the desired goal.  While it is necessary to provide motivation like salary, benefits and promotions, the resulting increase in performance may be nominal and/or short-lived.

Now consider the more powerful concept of inspiration. Although motivation and inspiration are frequently used as synonyms, they are actually quite different. Based on the Latin “spirare”, meaning to inhale or breathe in, to inspire is “to make someone want to do something, to give someone an idea about what to do or create”. Inspiration is an internal experience that is characterized by emotions and feelings.  It implies a more limitless source of creativity, energy and engagement. Inspiration unlocks the power of human potential.

The case is strong for leaders to cultivate their capability to inspire others. In feedback data gathered from almost 50,000 leaders, Harvard Business Review reports that the ability to inspire “is what most powerfully separates the most effective leaders from the average and least-effective leaders”.  The best news is that leaders can learn to become more inspiring. In a three year study by Harvard Business Review, 310 executives who focused on improving their inspirational ability moved as a group from the 42nd percentile (below average) to the 70th percentile, a statistically significant gain.  Some potential approaches to inspiration include being passionate and outgoing (“enthusiast”), creating a compelling vision of the future (“visionary”), invoking the organization’s mission (“principled”), and setting a challenging stretch goal (“driver”). (HBR)

Understanding the difference between motivation and inspiration, and putting that knowledge to use, could mean the difference between achieving average vs. extraordinary results. Wayne Dyer may have put it best when he said, “Motivation is when you get hold of an idea and carry it through to its conclusion, and inspiration is when an idea gets hold of you and carries you where you are intended to go”.

Need more ideas on effective and inspirational leadership? Don’t hesitate to contact us at info@hpisolutions.com or call us at 623-866-8200. We are ready to help!



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