Expert advice on Business Leadership and tips on becoming a more effective Leader.

Leadership Lesson: Motivation Or Inspiration – There is a Difference By Kevin Eikenberry

Often on airplanes people ask me, in casual conversation, what I do for a living. After explaining it in a few sentences, they often knowingly smile, and say:

“Oh, you’re a motivational speaker.”

Well, honestly, I believe that is not true; nor is it even possible. So I cringe internally, and then generally say a little bit more about our work and then move on.

After all, they will be my seat mate for at least the next hour or more.

The reality that I typically don`t share, but will share with you, is that it is really impossible to “motivate” anyone to do anything (for very long).


Because motivation is internal in nature – and it is always involves choices. Since we can`t choose for other people, all we can do is educate, inform, persuade and inspire them to make a choice that is in their best interest.

We can`t motivate, but we can inspire.

Once we recognize what we actually can do, we can begin to think about how to do it better, which is the goal of the rest of this article.

Seven Ways You Can Inspire Others…

… through your passion. We all make choices based on emotions, regardless of much we think it`s all facts and statistics. Even the most data driven person uses emotions, feelings and deeply held values to make decisions. If you want to inspire action in others, you must be willing to show your passion, beliefs and emotions.

… with great questions. Some of the most inspirational questions are those that require no audible answer, but simply encourage the receiver to reflect and answer internally. Inspirational people use questions in this way. They also use great questions to hear the answers and learn about what is impacting the choices others will make.

… through dialogue. You can`t inspire deeply or successfully solely with a great speech or monologue. Since inspiration is about helping others make choices they must be engaged in a conversation – and a dialogue is the most powerful and engaging type of conversation.

… with meaningful goals. Have you ever made a choice to do something new? It`s often easy to make that choice once, but it can get harder to continue to make those choices without a clear reason why. Goals themselves are important, but they are far more useful when they are meaningful. The why behind the goal will inspire more deeply and with greater impact.

… through guidance, support and encouragement. This is also known as coaching and/or mentoring. Perhaps you don`t think of coaching as all three of these things, but the best coaches do. And they realize it`s their role is to help their protégés make new choices – in other words, to inspire them.

… through your actions. This is obvious, but can`t be forgotten. You inspire people best through your actions. Your words and everything else on this list are important, but none will be as effective if your actions don`t align with your spoken messages.

… through consistency. Inspiration, by definition, is temporary. We all make new choices every day. So if you want people to make inspired choices you must continue to inspire them, remind them, encourage them, support them and more. Inspiration isn`t a one-time, once-a-week or occasional process. It is required day in and day out – and often more frequently than that.

Much more could be written about each of these approaches. I`m sure a long list of additional approaches could be included as well. Regardless, remember, none them will be perfected today or in one try.

Just as you must constantly think of how to inspire others, you must constantly improve your skills in these areas. But only if you want to become a more inspirational leader, teacher, coworker, spouse and parent.

That choice is up to you.
Kevin Eikenberry is a leadership expert and the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group, a learning consulting company that helps Clients reach their potential through a variety of training, consulting and speaking services. You can contact him to learn more about how he can help you or your organization improve your skills and results.

-As a leader, what are some of the ways you inspire others?

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