Knowledge Center


Article -> To Inspire or Motivate?

Date Added: January 2013

Note: This article appeared in the January 2, 2013 issue of The Green Bay Press-Gazette.

The words motivate and inspire occur in many discussions about great organizations and people. Some believe these have the same affect, while others believe they are inherently different.

Ultimately, the impact is based on each individual in terms of what gives you the “kick in the butt” you may need. Are you someone that needs motivation or inspiration; or possibly both depending upon the day and situation?

In my experiences, motivational speakers tend to be more fun, personable, energetic and likeable. They usually have a good message that makes me think. Unfortunately, for me and for many others, the application from motivation is short-term.

It may be applied immediately, but quickly forgotten because it only connects with my mind; and like everyone else, our minds fill up with many other items so we quickly forget this short-term motivation and it doesn’t become a habit (think of Covey’s “7 Habits”).

Inspirational people may be more docile, calm, direct and controversial. They can have an aura of self-confidence due to their extreme conviction and grace, which causes a lack of connection with some. However, those they do connect with occur with both mind and heart – a deeper, longer-term connection.

Like motivation, inspiration also causes us to think; although it is a much deeper thought process. If we are inspired, it triggers us to truly change our feelings or actions for something greater. It becomes part of who we are (i.e. a habit).

Think about any person you greatly admire. Do they inspire or motivate you? Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela and Mother Teresa all inspire. Martin Luther King both motivated and inspired. Famous athletes are more motivational. I asked several people to name those they consider great leaders or people they greatly admire. Most mentioned people who fit the inspirational definition; supporting the longer-term, personal impact.

While there is no right or wrong, we should each recognize what really moves us as recipients of communication; and those communicating should learn to determine whether a short- or long-term impact is needed for employees and the organization. There are times when motivation is needed; yet, long-term improvement needs inspiration.

David Yeghiaian is committed to leading people on a life-changing journey to being great leaders. Reach him at

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