The Importance of Inspirational Leadership

It’s Time to Move Beyond Carrots and Sticks

I believe there are three fundamental ways to get people to do things: You can coerce them, you can motivate them or you can inspire them.


Historically, business has used carrots and sticks to get performance OUT of people.  Today, we need to become leaders who can INSPIRE performance IN people. 

Carrots and sticks are necessary and always will be; however, 21st century leaders also recognize their limits and disadvantages. 

Coercion requires an ongoing investment in a bureaucracy of rules, processes and enforcement.  Motivation is expensive, particularly in a down market where money does not flow as freely, dollar-based performance targets are more difficult to achieve and bonuses are more difficult to pay out.  Plus, motivation cannot be shared and rarely connects individuals to a higher sense of purpose.  

We have entered an era of inspiration, where we will see great results from employees who are invested in not just the company’s potential for success but also the company’s underlying mission.  Employees do not work just for the pay but also for their ability to achieve something they find inspiring. 

Inspirational leadership is also a lot more efficient.  The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston announced it will lay off 140 or fewer employees, using a combination of delayed raises, a temporary reduction in benefits and donations from department heads to avoid wider job losses – they are also using inspirational leadership.   

“I want to run an idea by you that I think is important, and I’d like to get your reaction to it,” President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Paul Levy, presented to an auditorium full of technicians, secretaries, administrators, therapists, nurses and doctors earlier this month as the hospital was facing budget constraints and layoffs. “I’d like to do what we can to protect the lower-wage earners – the transporters, the housekeepers, the food service people.  A lot of these people work really hard, and I don’t want to put an additional burden on them.  Now, if we protect these workers, it means the rest of us will have to make a bigger sacrifice.  It means that others will have to give up more of their salary or benefits.” 


The heads of 13 medical departments committed to collectively donate $350,000 to the Boston hospital in an effort to further reduce planned staff layoffs.  They are also calling on hundreds of other doctors affiliated with Beth Israel Deaconess to donate money as a way to save colleagues’ jobs. 

What makes a company sustainable is not when it adds more coercive rules and regulations to control behaviors.  It is when its employees are driven by values and principles to do the right things, no matter how difficult the situation.  It is a leader’s job to inspire in us those values.

Whereas coercion and motivation happens to you, inspiration happens in you.

Values are at the root of Inspiration.  Values are efficient:  a handful help us navigate infinite situations better than any rule book.  They are timeless:  giving us strength to be consistent even though the pressures of life tell us to be situational.  They are enduring:  inspiring us to be principled however inconvenient, unpopular or dangerous that might be.  Values elevate us to act beyond what we can do, to embrace what we should do. 

Dov Seidman is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of LRN, a company that helps businesses develop ethical corporate cultures and inspire principled performance, and the author of “HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life).”