A key to unlocking your potential and lighting up those around you.

It was a muggy, 95-degree Tennessee day in August when I first remembered a sudden flash of clarity from inside that called me to action in a way I had not experienced before. I was on a much-needed water break in the middle of two-a-days practice week prepping for the upcoming high school football season. The purpose of this week was to knock off the rust and dive into the physical transformation needed to get us fit and ready for the upcoming action. I had always enjoyed and excelled at sports, but up until then I had always thought of myself as average at best. Coach Benny Pace, however, noticed something different in me. He recognized untapped potential and heart that, if woken up and harnessed in the right way, could serve both of us well over the next three years. At that moment, I imagine he had a couple of options on how to present this revelation to me. The traditional and familiar route would have been to motivate me in some way to work harder and become better. He could have given me information that would either push or pull me where he thought I needed to go. Coaches and teachers from Kindergarten until that year had used similar strategies to motivate performance by using a carrot or a stick. If you do this, you will earn this, and if you don’t do this, you will have this consequence. Although these extrinsic scare tactics worked for the short- term, they never seemed to have staying power.

When I got into the helping profession, I noticed a similar trend. Most counseling and change techniques seemed to be rooted in the carrot-and-stick model of motivation, and therefore, often yielded short-term results. The same thing was discovered in my leadership and management roles, and even in my early church experiences. There always seemed to be something missing—something that I would feel from time to time while watching Oprah or when in the presence of other connected communicators. Information alone rarely creates sustained change for others or myself. That’s when I began to understand the subtle but big difference between being motivated and being inspired.

We all need motivation to take action – there’s usually an end goal, a reason, and a reward to obtain or a consequence to avoid. We go to work to put food on the table (reward), exercise to avoid gaining weight (consequence to avoid), or treat our significant other well so they’ll stay with us. While motivation is sometimes necessary, it’s typically fueled by an external factor, by the reward systems in our brain that tell us to do “x” so we’ll get “y”.

Inspiration, on the other hand, comes from within, and the action that results from it is an overflow of something at the core of who we are. The inspired person works because she feels a calling to do what she does. He exercises to push himself out of his comfort zone. She treats people kindly because of her moral beliefs, character, and the type of person she wants to become. While both motivation and inspiration are important, inspiration is a powerful force. Motivation is better than being apathetic, but it often requires a lot of pushing and prodding from you the leader. Inspiration on the other hand involves more of your guidance. When you’re focused on inspiration, you’re activating the persons desire to act, which is less labor intensive and longer lasting.

Inspiration sticks around when things get tough, keeps us pushing forward when motivation fizzles out, and stays the course. Motivated people get the job done but inspired people change the world.

In the helping profession, we often find ourselves in a position of trying to motivate people to change, when really what they need is inspiration. While there’s certainly a place to help someone understand the consequences of their choices, I believe it’s much more meaningful to help someone develop a vision for who they could be. That’s why at Onsite, we focus so much on loving the whole person rather than just treating a symptom. We think that when you believe in people, they’ll believe in themselves and be inspired to work towards that. The same holds true for any type of leadership. Connected leaders know how to inspire through purposeful vision-casting and living out that vision themselves, resulting in teams that work from within rather than just for a paycheck.

On that day, Coach did something different. He walked up, put his arm around me, and said he had a story to share. It was from back when he played and about how and when he broke away from the middle of the pack and to the front. He said he saw a lot of himself in me. He said he believed I would be good regardless, but that he wanted me to have the opportunity to experience greatness. From that day on, I never finished another wind sprint or warm up exercise from the middle again. If I wasn’t first, I was close. Off-season preparation started to become as enjoyable as the game, and it paid off in dividends. The subtle but big difference of being motivated verses inspired shifted it from his idea to my own. When I began doing it for myself, I was fully engaged and bought in. When people truly want to do something as a result of their interactions with you, you have now stepped into the realm of inspiration. In inspiration, you’re guiding, not forcing and prodding; NOW you’re leading!

I challenge you to look at your goals and see whether you’re inspired or just motivated. First, this exercise will help you figure out where you should focus your energy and what you should let go of; almost always, the things that inspire you are where you’ll excel. Secondly, look for ways that you can internalize those goals, believe in yourself, and pass that inspiration on to those around you. Understanding this in theory was one thing, but integrating it in real time was another when all my previous training was consequence driven. The key however is simple but not always easy. In order to inspire others, we must be inspired ourselves. Being inspired requires intention and maintenance. Whether you’re trying to break a bad habit, start something new, or lead a company to new heights, finding inspiration, rather than just motivation, could be the one thing that makes all the difference.