I recently had two of my most experienced team members go off to a sales conference of sorts. They have been working with me for over ten years and both of them are in highly customer focused roles. They wouldn’t mind me sharing this (I hope…..too late any way) but they were both feeling a little stale and were looking to external sources to motivate them. However, for both of them, the aggressive nature of the sales culture left them feeling flat. They left feeling less motivated then when they arrived and they also felt financially cheated. After speaking with them both about it the next day, it got me thinking: can somebody motivate somebody else or is motivation an intrinsic feeling?

Motivation is a term used to rationalise why people do what they do in order to achieve a goal. In its most simplistic shutterstock_62055922 [Converted]form, people will drink water because they are thirsty. However, is motivation something that can be given or taken from one person to another? Or, is it something that comes from within?

Let’s take the example of my two staff. They left the sales conference disappointed because they did not get motivated from the talk. However, they demonstrated motivation themselves to do extracurricular training in order to improve their work performance. In my opinion, they were already motivated because they knew what they had to do in order to reach their goal. They felt flat because they weren’t inspired by what they heard from the trainer.

Inspiration is distinctly different to motivation. Inspiration is, by definition, the ability to influence or inspire another person. Those that inspire tend to be known as role models and are able to both positively and sometimes negatively lead behavioural change. So what does this mean for the workplace?

Firstly, leaders who have the ability to inspire have a significant advantage over those that cannot. The methods to inspire are many and varied however the most common two methods are through words and through actions.

There are leaders in many different fields who are brilliant and inspirational speakers. Politics is a field where the theatre of parliament combined with a 24 hour media cycle means that the ability to speak inspirationally with limited preparation can inspire people. Prime Minister Gillard’s famous misogyny speech went viral on YouTube and inspired many women worldwide. Adolf Hitler was able to rise an entire nation with his passionate rhetoric, despite the obvious failings of his motives and rationale. Lincoln, of course, in his Gettysburg Address, spoke with purpose about the need to promote the equality of people irrespective of race in the midst of the civil war. Oration skills are not limited to politics though. It has been interesting to see Alan Joyce last week delivering the Qantas results. Try as he might, he just wasn’t able to convince “Mr and Mrs Average Australia” that he was on the right course; just as he has failed to connect during the three years of his tenure as CEO. In contrast, former Wesfarmers CEO Michael Chaney held very clear and concise investor briefings over many years and he left his shareholders with the belief that his strategy was well thought out and correct.

There are also a raft of leaders who inspire through their actions. Two that come to mind immediately are the late Steve Jobs of Apple and guru investor Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway. Both businessmen could be described as “not natural” speakers and introverted by nature. Both men have climbed the summit in their careers; disrupting common thought practices and building businesses through teams of loyal, talented employees. Both men inspired their employees through their actions; Jobs through his relentless pursuit of perfection and Buffett through his disciplined methods of investment.  Could I ever see either Jobs or Buffett pursuing careers as a motivational speaker? No. They didn’t motivate. They inspire and inspired through their actions, their journey, their learnings and their successes.

This brings me back to my two team members who went to a sales conference in search of motivation. Maybe they couldn’t light the flame under their inner motivation because the speaker wasn’t inspiring. Maybe he didn’t offer them anything they really needed. Maybe he just talked in a fast and loud voice and his story, while interesting, wasn’t really inspiring. Maybe, he was all style and no substance when they were looking for real tools that they could take back and use in their jobs. Maybe, just maybe, he missed the mark totally or they missed the mark by expecting someone else to motivate them without fully appreciating that only they could motivate themselves.

Sorry Mr Belfort. Maybe your story, while being a great read wasn’t really inspiring, no matter how much “motivational” glitter came with it. Motivation comes from within. Inspiration comes with substance.

Brad McMahon – Managing Director


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