Don’t “motivate”– Inspire!

Motivation gets way too much air time in leadership discussions. Motivation is simple…

Motivation is nothing more than “providing with a reason to act in a certain way.” And it’s relatively easy to provide these reasons.

You can bribe people. In business we call these bribes incentives, contests and bonuses. To a certain degree, this works. But recent studies reveal that after basic needs are met, these bribes don’t work very well and that younger generations are not as motivated by financial incentives.

You can scare people. There are obvious scare tactics like open threats or withholding potential rewards such as promotions. There are more inconspicuous methods like quotas and peer pressure.

Whether you bribe or scare, these methods will do the bare minimum. That is, they will compel people to “act in a certain way”––to reach a certain expectation.

Inspiration is about exceeding expectations. It’s about unleashing people’s full potential and encouraging “discretionary effort,” the academic expression for “going the extra mile.”

In the SENSEI LEADER MOVEMENT we say “the manager motivates––the leader inspires.”

Sounds great on a philosophical level, but exactly how does one go about inspiring greatness in others? How do we exceed our manager self and become a genuine and effective leader?

It’s simple––not easy. It requires focus and discipline. You’ve got to pay attention to what looks like the little things in your eyes, but that can make a huge impact on the people you hope to inspire.

We’ll start with #2. This is not a typo…

#2 Be courageous…

There are few traits more inspiring than courage. And courage should be an essential quality of a leader.

Most of us won’t demonstrate courage by diving in front of bullets or dashing into a burning building to save a life. Don’t worry––you don’t need to.

There are three types of courage. The type I just illustrated is heroic courage. It’s obvious and fortunately for most of us the opportunities to demonstrate that type of courage are rare.

On a daily basis, most leaders are called to demonstrate the other two types: moral and artistic courage.

Moral courage is of course the courage to do the right thing. Even when it’s not comfortable, convenient, expedient or even profitable.

Artistic courage is the willingness to toss our ideas into the ring of public scrutiny. That is sharing our ideas and taking action in the face of potential criticism, resistance and even failure.

Practice courage consistently and your actions will inspire others.

#3 Be compassionate…

A little caring goes a long way in the inspiration department.

Think of the times when someone, particularly someone you look up to, showed you some kindness––some gesture of true empathy, caring or compassion. How did it make you feel?

When people know you’ll walk a little way with them, they’ll take it the extra mile.

#4 Demonstrate respect, trust and loyalty––first…

Respect, trust and loyalty are the three most essential assets in leadership. What can you possibly accomplish without the respect, trust and loyalty of the people you serve?

The problem is that too many people reserve these assets for the chosen few. Or worse, they have the mindset of “I’ll show respect when you show it to me.” Same for trust and loyalty.

True leaders go first. When you’re willing to extend your respect, trust and loyalty first you inspire others to do the same. Best of all, there’s a viral affect. You can inspire an entire culture of respect, trust and loyalty––when you’re willing to go first.

#5 Live the purpose…

If people aren’t inspired by bribed and scare tactics, what does move them to the highest level?


Studies consistently rank connection to a sense of purpose as one of the top 3 to 5 motivational factors in people’s lives. Reinforcing the “lead by example” principle, an inspirational leader lives the organization purpose. You manifest this purpose in every thought, word and action.

Then you’ve got to connect people to this purpose. You start with your example, but you also need to articulate the purpose clearly and understand how the overarching purpose harmonizes with the needs, goals and desires of each individual.

That’s a big job! (But nobody said being a leader was easy, right?)

As I warned earlier, these may seem like small things, but they make a huge impact on the lives of the people you serve and on their perception of you as a leader. The problem with small things, however, is that they’re often left undone.

Stephen Covey always shared a story about “big rocks.” He talked about things that are important, but not necessarily urgent. These are most often the most important things we should be paying attention to, but they’re also the things that get lost in the noise and pushed aside by everyday pressures and demands.

You’ve got to embed these practices––as disciplines.

Take some time and transform each of these ideas into specific items you can––and will––put in your daily planner. If you can’t express it as a calendar item you haven’t created a discipline yet. Keep working.

Don’t worry. I didn’t forget about #1.

#1 Walk the Walk––Lead by example…

People follow examples much more enthusiastically than they do orders. And there is nothing more inspiring than seeing someone committed to meaningful action.

This is another dividing line between “the manager” and The Leader. Too often managers issue orders without examples. They practice the antiquated mandate of “do as I say––not as I do.”

This doesn’t mean you have to be able to do everyone’s job, or even that you won’t ask others to do what you’re not willing to do yourself. In our age of specialization and certainly in larger organizations, you can’t possibly learn or perform every job…

But you can lead by example in the most important areas:

If you expect people to be on time––be on time.

If you expect people to continually improve––show them you’re always improving too.

If you expect people to do the right thing…

I think you get the message.

When you’ve been inspired by others, what, exactly, inspired you most? Their example.

Be the person you expect others to be. Model the behavior you expect from others.

Do this consistently, openly and sincerely.

It might not sound like a lot, but that is the most inspirational thing you can do.

Jim Bouchard

Jim Bouchard

Jim Bouchard is an internationally recognized speaker, Leadership Activist, and founder of The SENSEI LEADER Movement™. He’s the author of 8 leadership books, and hosts Walking The Walk, a ... Web: Details