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Chapter 15: Technique 12: Being Inspiring

Inspiration is a key, if complex, tool in the hands of inner leaders (Bilchik, 2001). These leaders find opportunity to use the technique of inspiration frequently. While inspiration has always been either an actual or a potential tool in leadership, it is a relatively new concept in the literature. It is a powerful tool to reenergize followers and to bond them together in the joint enterprise. It is a tool that top leaders may also use, but often don’t. The reason top leaders do not use inspiration is that it is frequently difficult to do. They can more easily employ motivation, a more physical, tangible method to secure follower compliance. Nevertheless, inspiration is a powerful weapon in the inner leader’s arsenal (Fairholm, 1991).


Simply put, inspiration is using words, ideas, information, and deeds to convey a sense of connection, excitement, and commitment to work-community goals or methods. When people feel inspired they want to act on that feeling. Inspiration is not motivation. It goes beyond motivation in appealing to a collective human need to be part of and engaged with others in lofty enterprise. Inspiring leaders strengthen coworkers, teach, and exhort them toward a common vision of what the work community is and can become. They tap something deep within the individual that strikes a responsive chord.

We now live in a world where interdependence, not dependence, is the mode (Lombardi, 2000). It is a world of uncertainty, not order; of negotiation, not edicts; of persuasion, not command. This kind of a world demands leadership, not management. The need is for leaders who will use their power to empower others. Today’s corporations need leaders who can change workers’ behaviors while staying in tune with their values. They need logic guided by intuition (Tesolin, 2000). The work communities in which people spend their time need someone to give voice to a vision of the future that exists now, if unstated, in the minds of followers. In short, they need inspiring inner leaders.

Inspiration is the name for that kind of influence that operates upon our minds so that we receive direction in extrarational ways (Roberts, 1907). Inspirational leaders have high self-confidence, dominance, and a conviction of moral rightness. They transfer these qualities to followers (see Bass, 1987; Peters and Waterman, 1982; Maccoby, 1981; Burns, 1978). Operationally, inspiration is defined by several emotional results (Burns, 1978).

These definitional elements of inspiration imply several ideas. First, inspiration involves a confirmation in the hearts of believers that the work community’s common message (vision) is true. Second, it provides guidance for individual believers in their community relationships. Third, inspiration is a means to gain full understanding of an inspiring future vision. Fourth, via the inspirational messages, believers can have communion with other believers and form links to other like-minded people. Fifth, inspiration impels one to do good, toward excellence. Sixth, it carries with it a feeling of rightness. And finally, inspiration has a teaching component—it is a way to teach others.

Inspiration is what many mistakenly call motivation (Lombardi, 2000). They confuse the inspirational, emotional element in some leader behavior for motivation from without.

Traditionally, the task of getting others to comply has been called motivation, and an extensive theory and methodology have evolved encompassing the leader’s tasks in causing directed change in others. Unfortunately, this theory and practice are largely wrong. The fact is that leaders cannot motivate followers—no person external to the individual can. Motives come from within the person; they are internal to each individual and directed by that individual. Leaders have little to do with creating motives. In short, all motivation is personal, done by the individual in response to his or her own values drives.

Another person—leader, manager, friend, or colleague—cannot motivate anyone. He or she does something else. When someone else, through his or her behavior, actions, or words, induces the individual to act, he or she can do so only via one or a combination of three approaches. He or she can create or alter an environment within which the individual can satisfy his or her own needs while (hopefully) also doing corporate work. Or he or she can do something to awaken a dormant motive or change the priority of someone’s values motives to action. Or he or she can excite and inspire the other person to action to satisfy by that action his or her needs and, optimistically, the work community’s.

CEOs and other managers, those in control of corporate resources, can induce follower action most easily by resort to approaches one or two. Inner leaders find that the third approach—inspiration—is most often the best approach available to them and that it is frequently a powerful inducement to stakeholder action. Inspiration, is an emotional appeal from one person to another. It is external excitation to action of another person, but it is not technically motivation because there is an element of coercion in motivation.

Assuming the accuracy of this reasoning, leaders cannot “motivate” others. All they can do is create a climate and the conditions within which others can find ways to self-motivate within parameters they set. Inner leaders can also interact with followers individually to help them see that some of their own motives, if satisfied through work community effort, can result in greater overall satisfaction than relying on their own current motives. That is, an inner leader can ask a follower to complete a difficult (or new, or creative) task, and through that effort the follower comes to realize that this work satisfies a new motive, and satisfying this need may be more rewarding to him or her than the one he or she currently spends effort in satisfying. Beyond this, motivation has little meaning as a leader technique.

Some of the inspiration techniques of inner leadership follow.

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