Motivation and inspiration are both important, but they’re also very different. Motivation often feels like someone is pushing you. Inspirational leaders help you find more of the good inside you.  Motivational leaders encourage you to press ahead.  Inspirational leaders get you to see a higher purpose of moving ahead.  Motivational leaders may give you the kick in the pants you need to move forward.  Inspirational leaders show you what it is like to get where you want to be.  So which is better?  What is the most important trait for a leader?  Motivational or Inspirational?

When considering motivational or inspirational forms of leadership, there are pros and cons for either approach.

The case for motivation

There are plenty of times when motivation is needed.  Motivation helps get us to do things that are not so much fun.  It gets us out of bed on a dreary day.  Sometimes motivation is the carrot (receive the reward).  Other times it’s the stick (must hit our quota or our pay is reduced).

I have seen leaders succeed using both the carrot and the stick approach.  One of the most successful organizations that I built used a heavy carrot approach.  It was a sales organization where the sales team were paid primarily on commission.  In order to encourage the highest possible profit margins, we paid higher commissions percentages for higher margin jobs.  The salesperson obviously wanted to go after projects that high reward with minimal risk.  This aligned the salesperson’s financial interests with the goals of the company.

On the other hand, I worked with a client that used the stick approach with their salespeople.  This particular industry allowed the salespeople to make a very good living off of their successes.  They receive pre-qualified prospects that have an interest in the product.  All they had to do was put on a good presentation and close the deal.  If they did that at a good pace, they would make a very good living.  But one thing the company did was to punish the salesperson for every mistake.  If they made a mathematical mistake, their commission was reduced by a percentage.  If they failed to try and up-sell to another product line, they were penalized.  And they also pay a penalty if they forget to get a Google review.

Which was happier?

Both companies incentivized their salespeople to accomplish the goals of the organization.  Both were successful organizations and had very well-paid, successful salespeople.  Which organization do you think was the happiest?

Truthfully, neither was.  The first one was so incentivized to increase profit margin, the salespeople were completely stressed whenever they failed to reach the next level in the commission structure.  The latter was so fearful of making a mistake they cringed every time they turned in paperwork for fear they made a mistake.

Therein lies the challenge of a motivational-based approach to leadership.  You have to constantly be adjusting the carrots or sticks in order to keep your team’s motivational level up.  And you have to constantly evaluate your program and adjust it to fit the latest circumstances.

The Case for Inspiration

Inspirational leaders do not worry about motivation.  An inspirational leader connects the needs and purpose of the individual with the needs and purpose of the organization.  Consequently, they do not worry as much about compensation models, because they know that if the person is operating out of the right intentions that are in synch with those of the organization, then all will work out.

Is this a little “pie in the sky”?

Is this a little “pie in the sky”?  Well, it can be.  Inspiration does not imply that there is no structure.  But what it says is that we aren’t encouraging people to do the work for the rewards they get as a result of an action.  We encourage them to fulfill their personal and corporate mission, with the knowledge that the end results will be fruitful for everyone.

The hard part

The hard part of this model is to develop trust with your people.  A friend of mine is the CEO of a company that lives this every day.  They believe in giving back to the community and taking care of those who are less fortunate.  Each employee has a corporate credit card.  They can use it in any way to help someone who needs it.  Employees will buy gas for the drifter, by a meal for the single mom trying to make ends meet.  There is no limit, no guidelines.  And guess what?  There has been no abuse of the system.

Do the employees at this company connect with the vision and purpose of the company?  you bet.  Do they have structures for pay and benefits that still give them guidelines for how things are to be done and how people are compensated?  Yes, they do.

This company demonstrates that you can inspire your employees to act within a set of parameters, and still have the structure to succeed.  And yes, this company is very successful.

Motivational or Inspirational?  Start with your “Why”

Whether your leadership style is motivational or inspirational, you must start with your “why”.  If you start with your true, inner purpose for being, you are more likely to connect with people on that inspirational level.  And, while you might still operate today in a more motivational construct, you will find yourself slowly migrating toward a visionary position.  And, perhaps, you will inspire your people to act in a certain way, instead of using motivational techniques to accomplish the same goals.

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