“Second star to the left and straight on ’til morning.”
– Peter Pan enspiring Wendy to go to Neverland
One key difference between lousy leaders and good ones is the ability to motivate or inspire people. But these days, that ability, rare as it is, simply isn’t enough. Given the skeptical and cynical times we live in–and despite a widespread hunger to feel motivated and inspired–people often respond with reluctance or opposition.
Why so? If you look at the concepts of “motivation” and “inspiration” through the lens of emotional intelligence, you begin to understand why neither has lasting power for the people they are meant to energize and activate.
To motivate is to pump people up (or from a cynical point of view, puff people up). It aims people toward a goal (usually the CEO’s) and then fires them toward it like a rifle shot. Too often, the people listening do not have the courage (or compensation package) of the leader who is doing the pumping and aiming. When the pump’s away, the people deflate. After such calls to action I have heard people inside a company–who lack job security and have to work harder for fewer benefits–essentially say to each other, “That’s easy for him to say. He just got a raise, while we’re having our jobs cut. You know, he should save his ‘selling’ for our customers. He should know better than to think he can sell us insiders.” Too many people are too far down and too weary to buy into being pumped up momentarily.
More people need to be lifted up than pumped up. This is what inspiration does. Whereas motivation seeks to mobilize you by telling you to take action, inspiration accounts for the notion that if you are too wounded you may need some compassion and healing before you get back on your feet. That compassion is not wasted. It feels good to be understood–to have others know that sometimes you’re not being lazy; sometimes you are too hurt to do anything other than lick your wounds after a truck has hit you. But as with motivation, inspiration, although more satisfying to the spirit, can also fall short of helping people reach a goal. Too often, inspiration lifts you up but doesn’t give you specific steps to take. So you are left feeling better, but still just as lost about what to do next.
If trying to motivate or even to inspire falls short of helping people reach a goal, what’s a leader to do? He can enspire his people. To enlarge is to make larger; to enable is to make able; to ennoble is to make noble. To enspire is to both lift up and direct. Enspiration makes something happen. It gives people the will to find the way and also the way to sustain the will.
To enspire as a leader takes several steps:
- Step 1: Get where people are coming from vs. only focusing on where you want them to go.
- Step 2: Communicate to them that you get “it” so that they feel “got,” i.e., understood and connected with, from their position not yours. Think of the “I feel your pain” mantra of President Clinton before it became overdone and seen as a joke.
- Step 3: Pause before you throw the “bum’s rush” at them; allow them to exhale and feel the relief of finally being heard and understood.
- Step 4: Having exhaled and released their distress, they are now open to listening to your call to action and are now ready to “inhale” their new marching orders. You have earned their allegiance and commitment by going to their pain and pausing to comfort it.
- Step 5: And this is very important and where mere inspiration falls short. They need to see your goal for the company very clearly, understand it fully, and be given the chance to enroll in it rather than have it forced down their throat. To do this, they don’t get to pick the goal, but they do get to choose with you the best way to reach the goal. When they participate in the decision making about how to get there, they will participate in the implementation.
Enspire Learning out of Austin, Texas is doing just this. Under the leadership of founder, Bjorn Billhardt, Enspire Learning’s mission is to “inspire and motivate, leading learners to retain, internalize, and apply knowledge more effectively.” Key to all their approaches is a high level of interactivity. They don’t use a cookie-cutter approach, which would just be fodder for the skeptics and cynics. When they customize their approaches, it is more from an inside-out than outside-in direction with their clients. As such they not only get great “buy in” they get great “trying” (i.e., implementation) of the approaches that are developed.
Enspirational leadership is an idea whose time has come. The enspirational leader knows that when you get where people are coming from, they’ll let you take them where you want them to go.