How to Inspire (Versus Simply Motivate) Employees? By Robyn Benincasa

“Motivation is for now. Inspiration is forever.” —Robyn Benincasa 

Ever feel like you’re dragging your teammates along toward your goal and not theirs? How do you get and keep your teammates on board for the long haul, focused and driven to succeed? 

The truth is that ownership comes from inspiration, and inspiration is an inside job. As a leader, you can help facilitate inspiration, but you can’t necessarily create it. I believe that a team can create short-term motivation by using rewards like a cruise or a cash bonus for certain measurable behaviors. But long-term inspiration comes only from the heart and mind of the inspired.

So how to inspire your employees to drive hard for months or even years toward a common goal?

Hire the Inspired

There’s a lot to be said for hiring well. Often we are given an employee or teammate who is competent in a particular technical area of the business, which is the reason they were hired, but somehow they are missing that inspiration chip in their psyche that’s necessary to own outcomes and get to the finish line at all costs. I’m of the opinion that when there is a job that can be taught and learned, we’re better off being guided in our teammate selection by their inspiration to succeed against all odds versus strictly their technical competence (unless we’re talking about surgery, nuclear fission, NASA engineers or something of the same ilk, granted).

For example, I’ve watched many a world-champion mountain biker, kayak paddler, runner or triathlete pull the plug on their adventure racing team the moment they found themselves outside their comfort zone, felt that their environment was beyond their control, or when they believed they were suffering too much relative to past experiences. When times got tough, they quit. 

I’ve also witnessed true competitors who were slightly above-average athletes who ended up on the podium because there was no challenge they couldn’t overcome with their team. They were willing to do whatever it took, because getting to that finish line was a clear goal that lay deep within their souls. They would learn, be, adapt to, evolve into whatever they needed to complete the job and not let their teammates down. 

I would take an inspired employee over a technically superior one any day of the week. Obviously, the best-case scenario is to find a person with both inspiration and competence.

Inspire the Hired

If people don’t come to us ready-made with that “inspiration chip” to embrace the goals of the team, or if they seem to be losing ownership along the way, there are ways to create that spark inside them again. The goal is to reinvigorate the entrepreneurial spirit in each of our teammates by giving them the sense that the outcome is truly up to them and reminding them that they’re uniquely qualified to be key players in the team’s success. How?

Discover and Fulfill Core Needs

Great leaders and teammates have a keen insight into what makes each of their teammates tick or come alive. They know what their teammates are inspired by, what they pride themselves on and what they need in order to be motivated. Not everyone is inspired by a bigger paycheck. Some people are more inspired by recognition, flexible working hours, a healthier work life balance, a heartfelt thank-you from the powers that be, or the opportunity for advancement or to move into a job that uniquely matches their hard work and talents. If we discover our teammates’ core needs, we have the key to creating a truly positive work environment by finding a way to help every team member fulfill those needs.

Obviously, this is much simpler in a small company, but even in a larger one, you can create special awards and ways to recognize people that will make them feel that you “see” them and value their individual contributions and engagement. When people feel that they are “special” to the people they respect and love, there is no stopping them on their mission!

Value Unique Competencies

Everyone has or knows something valuable that they can contribute to the team, whether it’s life experience, education, specific knowledge, a keen sense of the market or a magic way with people. The best teams discover and mine those talents for the good of the team without being hamstrung by rank, seniority, tenure or titles. If you instill in your company culture that even the newest people on your team are recognized and valued for their strengths and are given a platform to share those strengths with the team, you will have truly inspired employees.

Employ a Democratic Leadership Style

Nothing inspires an entrepreneurial spirit like being asked for one’s input and opinion. With a democratic and inclusive leadership style, you can move a team member from being part of the audience to becoming a proactive and instrumental part of the solution in minutes. It’s amazing how often we make the mistake of handing someone “their goals” from on high without asking for their input or ting their buy-in on what’s possible from their perspective.

The best teammates and leaders realize that we all want to feel like our contribution and engagement have led to the success of an organization, a family, a relationship; and a key way to inspire that entrepreneurial spirit is to listen to our teammates, encourage open communication and solicit their ideas. Nothing shows a teammate that they are respected and valued more than seeing their innovative ideas and comments acted on and incorporated by the team. People will embrace that which they help create.