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Would you rather motivate or inspire?

December 20, 2010

Yesterday, sports announcer Tom Jackson said something that I can’t stop thinking about.

He was talking about Michael Vick’s performance as quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles this season as nothing short of inspired. Explaining that there is a difference between a leader who motivates and a leader who inspires, he said that a leader who inspires lets no obstacles keep him or her from doing what they were meant to do. In this case, his performance on the field inspires his teammates to do the same. And this certainly seemed true yesterday with the Eagles come from behind win over the New York Giants.

Now, I am not here to talk about football, because I know very little about what other teams are doing, except for my beloved Indianapolis Colts. But I am interested in this difference between motivation and inspiration and am wondering what you think.

First, some definitions.

To motivate, whether yourself or another, is to provide a motive or motives. And a motive is something that causes a person to act in a certain way. Synonyms include incite; impel; induce; provoke; prompt.

To me, this implies something external. You provide an external reason for yourself or another to act in a certain way.

To inspire is to exert a stimulating or beneficial effect upon yourself or another. Synonyms include animate; invigorate; enliven; exalt; revolutionize.

To me, this implies something internal. You call up something deep inside that allows you to perform in a way that may not have seemed possible. Your performance then inspires others to call up something deep within themselves.

For example, a coach who motivates offers his team these extrinsic benefits – approval (from the coach and fans), a winning season, financial rewards, etc. A coach who inspires makes their team believe that anything is possible and brings out qualities and skills in his or her players that they did not know they had. The motives are intrinsic.

A motivated team may or may not let obstacles that arise deter them. If the obstacles are too great, a once motivated team may easily become unmotivated. An inspired team lets no obstacles deter them. I think this is why people love sports so much, for those rare occasions when we see a performance that seemed impossible.

In the case of an artist, inspired art comes from deep within and is not dependent on the reaction of others. Paradoxically, the more the art comes from within, the more likely that it will connect with others.

A motivated person or team has shorter term goals and, when achieved, moves on to new goals. An inspired person acts from something inside them that is always there to draw upon.

With these differences in mind, would you rather motivate or inspire?

Related Reading:

Living Inspired

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2010 1:09 am

    Gosh, Kim I think maybe a little of both.

    There are times when motivation is the route to be taken and the hope is to help a person accomplish something that is maybe short term. Of the two, I would say it is the easier to accomplish.

    Inspiring others is often something that we don’t even realize that we do because it usually isn’t something that we set out to do. As you said, it comes from within. An inner voice is driving our soul to be who we are….if we listen to that voice and then that somehow inspires another…wow that is powerful!

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