Following a recent workshop, a young woman asked me an interesting question. She wanted to know if I considered myself a motivational speaker or an inspirational speaker. I have given that question some thought and, after discussing it with friends in the speaking and training profession, concluded that, while it is generally perceived that a motivational program can get people fired up, the overall effect tends to be short-term. An inspirational speech can have a deeper impact, possibly causing a life-long change.
This is a point often overlooked by leaders. Its relatively simple to motivate an employee in the short run, whether via a contest, performance bonus, additional perquisite, or pep talk. There is nothing wrong with trying to improve performance using these incentives.
But if these programs are misused and people begin to feel manipulated, the positive impact is diluted. Studies have shown that employees often resent motivational programs when they feel the employer is just trying to get more work out of them.
An effective leader should attempt to inspire people to bring about the conditions that will cause positive, long-term changes. Today, too many people see their jobs as boring and unfulfilling. Employee loyalty and involvement are not as prevalent as they once were. Even jobs that might appear exciting and desirable may prove unsatisfactory to those who have them.
Logan Piersall Smith once wrote that the test of a true calling is the love of the drudgery it requires. With a little effort, an effective leader can help make almost any job seem more gratifying.
A meaningful vision, combined with a strong sense of purpose, can be instrumental in helping employees recognize the value of their efforts. Objectives that help the employees stretch and grow can be beneficial. Developed properly, they can truly inspire.
Some leaders may say, But Im not a motivator. Im not the outgoing, gregarious type. I cant jump up and down and get people excited!
You dont have to. Besides, that behavior tends to wear thin after a while.
Here are a few tips to help you inspire your people over the long-term:
- Build credibility and trust. Let your people see that your word stands for something. People like working for a leader they can believe in. An organization built on a sense of mutual trust can usually sustain itself, even during difficult times.
- Help people understand the importance and value of their work. People become enthusiastic when they realize they can make a difference.
- Provide opportunities for people to master new tasks and expand their skills. People grow when they are called upon to continually overcome new challenges. Ronald Osborn once said, Unless you try to do something beyond that which you have already mastered, you will never grow.
- Help people learn good judgment. The most recent issue of the Boy Scout manual points out that good judgment cant be taught, but through the gathering of many experiences, it can be learned. An inspirational leader is one who takes the time necessary to help his people learn the skills needed to exercise good judgment. These skills include the ability to recognize all available options, to select the best solution, and finally, to effectively implement the decision.
The inspirational leader guides his people through a variety of situations, allowing them the opportunity to make critical choices, to see the results of their decisions, and to learn to live with their choices, or to make the necessary adjustments. Sure, they will make some mistakes along the way, but when they have the responsibility for making the decision for exercising judgment they will learn from their mistakes. And they will have more of a sense of ownership because of the decision.
The leader benefits by having stronger, more flexible people, but even more importantly, he has the satisfaction of knowing he may have contributed to enriching his employees lives.
William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. The second edition of his book, Catalytic Management: Success by Design (McGraw-Hill), is available at local stores. Reach him at (412) 276-7396.