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Why Your "Why" Matters

One of the most impactful videos I ever watched was a Ted Talk with Simon Sinek titled “Start with Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” The concept seemed so simple, yet it changed the way I communicated with my prospective clients and my team. One of my favorite quotes from the talk is “There are leaders and then there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power and authority, but those who lead inspire us. Whether they’re individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And it’s those who start with ‘WHY’ that have the ability to inspire those around them.” As a leader in the insurance industry, I was blown away with the power of this concept. For years I used it as part of my agent onboarding and training. I thought if I could help people tap into their WHY it would inspire them to change behaviors that would help them level up in their professional journey. During this process, I discovered my own WHY and tapped into what inspired me to act. That’s also when I realized there was a difference between INSPIRATION and MOTIVATION.

Inspiration is defined as:
1. The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.
2. The drawing of breath; inhalation
I realize it’s a bit of a stretch, but both definitions focus on what is happening internally.

So how does that differ from motivation?

Motivation is defined as:
1. The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way
2. The general desire or willingness of someone to do something

Inspiration is the spark and motivation is the call to action based on that spark of inspiration.

Both are powerful tools both personally and professionally. Both are equally misunderstood and often misused.

For example, working in a performance-based industry, we were often given opportunities for bonuses, trips, and awards. I noticed that these things changed the behavior of my team in the short-term (prospecting went up, engagement was higher, productivity was through the roof). But as soon as the qualification period ended, people’s behavior went right back to the way it was prior to the incentive. That is because we weren’t really changing behavior with the incentives– we were holding a carrot that people wanted and were extrinsically motivated with. But extrinsic motivation doesn’t typically connect with inspiration.

Intrinsic motivation (a person’s WHY) does have a direct connection to a person’s inspiration– which is why it can be used to change behavior long-term.

As a leader, it is imperative to know what inspires your people – and not just know but understand and be able to communicate to it. This is also easier said than done. There can be a temptation to utilize it to get the desired result only (which could be manipulative) rather than helping your employee to grow and improve through behavior modification. There must be a level of psychological safety and a deeper relationship for your employees or team-members to feel open to share with you. There is always the question of time as well. We, as a society, seek instant gratification and while there can be progress in the short-term, typically it involves a longer time frame for maximum results.

Questions to ask yourself as a leader:

1. Do I understand my own “WHY” and how that connects to my intrinsic motivation?
2. Have I communicated my “WHY” to my team?
3. Have I developed a culture within my team that allows for open and honest communication?
4. Do I understand what truly inspires my team – individually and as a unit?
5. What am I doing as a leader to foster the growth of my team – individually and as a unit?
6. How can I encourage my team to “stay the course?”

John Maxwell said it best when he said, “The true measure of leadership is influence, nothing more nothing less.” Understand your own inspiration and motivations first, and then look to influence those you lead to discover and act on theirs.