Which drives better team results – motivation or inspiration?  

As a people leader, one of your key responsibilities is to help your team to be great, perform well and deliver results.

But they don’t teach us how to inspire others in B-school.

Nor is it a major topic in most leadership development programs.

Yet, when an employee or team is not “all in”, it can have negative effects on how the team operates as well as your business results.

The Difference Between Motivation and Inspiration


Until I became a psychologist, I thought motivating and inspiring people was the exact same thing.  

But in the process of learning about human behavior and how the mind translates messages, it has become evident that they are not equivalent.

Here’s what I mean..

Merriam-Webster defines inspiration as“ Something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create.”

Motivation, on the other hand, is “The act or process of giving someone a reason for doing something.”

When you motivate your team, you are giving them reasons to get the work done. 

You use extrinsic (or external) factors to get your team to move forward. 

Examples could be a bonus, an end-of-project team celebration, or even a simple verbal “job well done” from you.  

Motivation is an outside-in approach. 

The team is performing ultimately so they can get the extrinsic reward.

But when you inspire, it is the opposite – an inside-out method.  

You are essentially shifting the hearts and minds of the team to believe in the importance of the work and want to do it, regardless of potential rewards.

Which Is Better? Leading With Motivation Or Inspiration


Honestly, over the lifespan of leading a team, both are definitely needed. 

But it is kind of like the “teaching a man to fish” scenario.

Leading with motivation usually has a short term effect compared to inspiration.  

In most cases, you also have to continue to “up the ante” each time so that the external reward offered is meaningful enough to move the team to act.  (offering the same reward time after time will soon lead to diminishing returns)

Leading with inspiration is usually more complex, compared to motivation, and has a longer term impact. 

It requires knowing and understanding the values and beliefs of your team so you can help them foster a deeper connection and alignment to the work and results.  

This gets them to the point where they want to act themselves, without any external oversight or incentives from you.


Final Thoughts.


When you think of motivating – think of yourself using external motivators to compel the team to act.

When you think of inspiring – think of yourself connecting to the minds and hearts of the team to propel self generated behavior.

In some instances, the differences may appear subtle on the surface.  However, the implications to your leadership style (including resources, your time, and energy) can be massively different.


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