Leadership, Inspiration and Motivation
Have you ever wondered how one person can do so much “good” and be lauded for the good they do when it is physically impossible for them to have achieved it alone? At the same time, have you ever thought, “how could a person get away with the terrible things they are doing while others stand around and watch?” I have; it perplexed me for an awfully long time.
A person’s ability to “move the crowd” is a function of two things. The first is inspiration, and the second is motivation. If we successfully lead a team of people, it is because we inspire something that moves them to act. Their motive for action is their “motivation.” You see, motivation is an inside job. As a leader, I have the power to motivate one person, myself.
At the same time, I can inspire people to tap into their own motives and choose to act in the direction I lead. Therefore, a leader must invest time in learning how to inspire others to touch the motives of the people they lead. I remember a story told that illustrates the power of motivation.
The late, great George Halsey told this story,
“On the African Savanna lives an Antelope that knows when the Sun rises, it must begin running. As the same Sun starts to peep over the horizon on the Savanna, there is a Lioness who knows it must run too. The Gazelle knows it must run faster than the fastest Lioness, or it will be killed and eaten. The Lioness knows that it must run faster than the slowest Gazelle, or it and its cubs may starve to death. The Gazelle is running for its life, and the Lioness is running for its life. One is running from something, and the other is chasing something. So, it doesn’t matter if you are the Gazelle or the Lioness; you better wake up each morning and start running.”
The fact is that we are either running from something or chasing something. These two motivations are the only real motives to act. What inspires the Gazelle and the Lioness? Life inspires them both to run. We, just like the Gazelle and the Lioness, have the same motives; to live, thrive, grow, and help the next generation do the same.
Remember the question at the beginning of this article, “how can one person do so much good or evil without the help of others?” The answer is not one person can achieve great good or great evil without the participation of willing and motivated people. The great mystery of leadership is rooted in the leader’s ability to inspire. This challenge is never more evident than when you lead an “uncompensated” volunteer team. That is not to say that a paid team is not difficult to lead and inspire; they are equally challenging, but for different reasons.
Leaders, both those who pay their team and those who lead unpaid volunteers, must invest time studying, learning, and mastering the art of inspiration. Discover the things that move the team to dream about a world where their running has paid off. Remember, people tend to chase a carrot or run from the stick. Champion Thoroughbred horses cross the finish line with the sting of the riding crop.
Can you inspire a person to run without the whip? You certainly can, but you can never achieve the power of inspiration without answering the “Existential Question.”
“Why does the “leader’s vision” matter to my life and the lives of my loved ones?”
A leader who addresses the existential question will inspire commitment to the cause of the vision. The vision may be evil at its core and involve the extermination of an entire population of people, but it speaks to the followers’ existential question. The vision may be life-affirming and life-giving and move people to commit by laying down their lives to achieve it. The bottom line of leadership is to inspire people to act in the direction you are leading.
A leader may put a gun to your head, and that will provide, in some cases, sufficient inspiration to make you act. Leading by coercion that forces compliance is “leadership,” but it is fragile and tenuous at best. The person who leads this way must never show weakness because those inspired by the fear he creates are looking for a vulnerable moment to strike back. History is replete with examples of coercive leaders whose weakness meant their demise at the hands of those they led.
We also have evidence that leaders who inspire commitment to ideas are honored by their followers and their foes in their time of weakness.
In the end, two things remain constant and accurate.
The first is that leadership is “amoral.”
People can inspire followers with evil or good intentions. The moral compass resides in the person who leads and not in “leadership.”
I remember the following quote attributed to Edmund Burke,
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
The second is that good leadership or poor leadership is a shared responsibility between the leader and the followers.
Followers can change the leadership regardless of the laws enacted by the leaders to maintain their position and power. Within a political system, citizens hold power through the vote. Employees have power in a business environment through their employment choices. In a volunteer organization, the participants may withdraw their physical and financial support. The one thing that keeps good and evil leadership in power is the will of those who follow to act.
To inspire people address the existential question and touch their motive for action.