Can you tell the difference between these two quotes? Dr. Martin Luther King: “I have a dream” Most managers and senior executives: “I have a very attractive remuneration package, underpinned by the constant threat of being fired”. Apologies to Simon Sinek for paraphrasing him here, and to most managers and senior executives, who would never dream of expressing their incentivisation strategy so bluntly. But… Dr King could have stood in front of a quarter of a million people at the March on Washington and delivered a detailed breakdown of the potential benefits of full civil rights for all, but it’s unlikely that his speech would still be remembered today. What was needed in that moment wasn’t a plan, or a set of objectives, or a good enough incentive – it was a dream. During our workshops, we sometimes ask participants to choose a leader they particularly admire from a list of fifteen or so prominent figures. We then ask them to identify some of the qualities that person has. Dr. King is a commonly chosen figure. And perhaps the most frequently cited quality that people identify in him? Inspirational.

Inspiration vs. Motivation

A common mistake is to conflate inspiration with motivation. Our proposition is that they are two separate things entirely. And that learning the difference has the potential to transform your life and your leadership. Motivation is the active form of the word motive, which is derived from the Proto-Indo-European root meue-, or ‘to push away’. Whereas inspiration is derived from the Latin term inspirare meaning ‘to excite or inflame’.

Pull vs. Push

OK, so how do you feel when you are being pushed to do something, when an external force is compelling you to act? Compare that to how you feel when you are excited about something, when you feel pulled towards it! What is your energy like? What’s the difference in the impact you make on the people around you? How likely are you to keep on doing something because you are being pushed, compared to when you feel excited? Another way of looking at it is this: motivation is something that is outside of you; inspiration comes from within. And don’t get us wrong, motivation has its place. Most people fleeing a burning building aren’t feeling all excited and inspired by the prospect of breathing fresh air – they are motivated by a strong desire not to die! In the same way, a new manager coming into a struggling team can turn things around with the right combination of rewards for success and consequences for failure. But this tends not to be the energy that builds teams, creates followers, and makes lasting, purposeful change. Leaders who take teams, companies, and societies into new territory, and who create sustainable followership are those who inspire.

Authoritative vs. Coercive

Daniel Goleman, the pioneer of Emotional Intelligence, conducted research into leadership behaviours and came up with six distinct ‘styles’ of leading. Each had their benefits and limitations. And when it came to impact on the organizational ‘climate’ (and subsequently efficiency, return on sales, revenue growth, and profitability), one style stood head and shoulders above the others, while one was least effective by a long way. The ‘coercive’ style is defined by a demand for complete compliance, reinforced by rewards and penalties. While it was able to shock people into new ways of working, and successfully achieved certain short-term business objectives, it was damaging in the long term. High in motivation, but low in inspiration. The ‘authoritative’ style is concerned with mobilizing people towards a vision and giving them a clear sense of how they fit into it. In almost every situation it was shown to be effective – not just in the short-term, but on a sustainable basis. The motivation in terms of external factors was immaterial – it was all about the power of inspiration. So, what can you do to harness the power of inspiration for yourself, and how can you use it to lead? Well, the answer to the latter is at least partly in the former. People are inspired by the inspiration of others. To find your fulfilment, and to impact powerfully the people around you requires you to tune into your own sense of purpose and passion.

What is your dream?

Here’s a question for you. What is your dream? Go on, grab a pen and paper and write a response – what is your dream? And what is important to you about that? Again, write it down – what is important to you about that dream? And what is important to you about that? We could go on… We keep asking that question because a typical first response to the question ‘what is your dream?’ tends to take us into the land of motivation, to stuff that is external to us. For example, it might go something like this:
Client: ‘My dream is to win the lottery’. Coach: ‘What is important to you about that?’ Client: ‘It would mean that I could give up work.’ Coach: ‘What is important to you about that?’ Client: ‘Hmm, I could focus on building my own business. ‘ Coach: ‘What is important to you about that?’ Client: ‘It would give me independence and the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives.’ Coach: ‘And what is important to you about that?’
You can always go deeper. So, find your dream. Spend time reflecting on what it is that you want to create in the world. Keep digging deeper and deeper. Keep digging until you find an answer that scares you and excites you – in equal measure. You’ll feel it. And when you find the answer share it with others. Dreams call to each other. Inspiration begets inspiration. Where dreams align is where true co-creation occurs. Finding what inspires you is an integral to a fulfilling life. Share your dreams with others. And be curious about theirs. This is one of the keys to great leadership. At Global Warriors we equip the next generation of leaders to embrace uncertainty, cross edges, and step into their full potential. If you would like to speak with us we welcome your email at To receive more articles like this please sign up to receive our newsletter by following this link.
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