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Why Great Leaders (Like Richard Branson) Inspire Instead of Motivate

Inspiration (not motivation) is the most important leadership trait, fueled by passion and purpose. Here's how top leaders inspire their people.

People often use the terms "inspire" and "motivate" interchangeably. Conceptually they may seem related, but in fact they are worlds apart.

"Inspire" translates to "in spirit." Inspiration comes from within.

The root word of "Motivate" is "motive," which is an external force that causes us to take action.

Motivation pushes you to accomplish a task, or work through a difficult event, even when you would rather be doing anything else. We are motivated by a result.

Inspiration pulls you towards something that stirs your heart, mind, or spirit. We are inspired by a person, an event, or a circumstance.

When we are inspired, we aren't thinking about the final end state. In fact, when we are filled with inspiration, we want to hold onto that feeling for as long as possible.

When we are filled with inspiration, we often don't need external motivation to move forward. The feeling of purpose and meaning is enough to propel us. When we are void of inspiration, we must seek out ways to keep ourselves moving forward towards a clearly defined end state.

Those without a clear vision, mission, or purpose often require lots of external motivation to keep moving forward.

Those that operate and live from a place of purpose are inspired every day to give 100%. They may get tired, but they can reach back to their higher purpose to be inspired. This is why the most effective leaders are the most inspired leaders - and the most inspirational.

Richard Branson identifies the ability to inspire as the single most important leadership skill. The ability to infuse energy, passion, commitment, and connection to an organization's mission and direction is essential in any growing company.

According to an IBM survey of 1,700 CEOs through 64 countries, the three leadership most important leadership traits are:

  1. the ability to focus intensely on customer needs,

  2. the ability to collaborate with colleagues, and

  3. the ability to inspire.

Inspired employees are more than twice as productive as satisfied employees, according to a survey conducted by Bain Research.

Harvard Business School gathered data from assessments of more than 50,000 leaders, and the ability to inspire stood out as one of the most important competencies. It is the trait that creates the highest levels of engagement, it is what separates the best leaders from everyone else, and it is what employees want most in their leaders.

How Great Leaders Inspire

As Simon Sinek taught us in his TED Talk, "How Great Leaders Inspire Action," no one follows a leader for the leader. They follow a leader for themselves. The most inspirational leaders ignite a spark within their employees and followers that move them to action. They don't require motivation to act because they've been inspired.

How can you inspire your people? What follows is a collection of strategies compiled from various studies and sources.

  1. Have a Clear Vision, Mission, and Values System. Inspiring leaders know that the most effective way to enroll followers is to clearly articulate what they believe in, why they exist, and where they are going. Followers need something tangible to grasp.

  2. Create Stretch Goals. Paint a bold picture for your employees and followers that helps them visualize unlimited possibility.

  3. Work with Them. The most inspiring leaders are highly collaborative. They work alongside their people to make things happen, rather than issuing directives. Two of the most inspiring words are we and together.

  4. Encourage Self-Development. Inspiring leaders want their people to develop. They invest in them, and they encourage activities that foster physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth & well-being.

  5. Acknowledge Them. Everyone has 3 fundamental needs, according to science: to feel safe, to feel like we belong, and to feel like we matter. Through acknowledgement and appreciation, we can address all 3 needs, and inspire our people to give us 100%.

  6. Invest Time in Good Communication. Inspiring leaders understand the impact of great communication, and the harm of poor communication. They know communication can be a catalyst to growth, and use it as a strategic tool to achieve their goals.

  7. Listen. Again, employees want to know they matter. It's not enough to share your vision. Followers want to contribute their ideas and perspectives as well.

  8. Act with Integrity; Inspire Trust. Employees take their cues from their leaders. They are always watching. To believe in their leaders, they must believe them. Inspiring leaders know every action matters.

The next time you want to motivate your people, ask yourself how you can inspire them. Look inside for your answers to drive a devoted following, quantum growth and lasting change.

Good luck!


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