How inspiration feels, in depth

August 19, 2014 by Joshua
in Leadership

My seminar, “How to lead people so they want you to lead them again,” and the General Assembly seminar coming up August 23, “Lead the way: Effective Leadership Techniques,” teach you how to inspire people. I talk about it in a work context, but the principles and techniques apply everywhere.

Last week I outlined how inspiration feels. As a leader, inspiring people raises morale, loyalty, productivity, efficiency, and more. It also feels great to be inspired. Today, I’ll go into more depth for each point. My post, “How to make someone feel understood: the Confirmation Cycle,” describes the core exercise in the seminar. Doing it will give you the basics of inspiring someone. Having someone do it with you will give you the great feeling of being inspired. I’m writing this post to describe the effects of taking the seminar, but you can get most of it from just that exercise. (I still recommend attending the seminar).

Inspired people work harder, more diligently, and longer than uninspired people

This is the main property outsiders see since it’s external to the inspired person. The rest mainly happen inside them.

As a leader interested in results, you may want this result most, though the seminar’s techniques will build compassion, empathy, and understanding into your technique so you’ll want their emotional reward as much as their results. If you don’t understand the emotional reward your inspiration gives them, people you lead may give you so much enthusiasm and contribution that you don’t feel you deserve it and don’t know how to handle it. The seminar covers how. For now, understand how emotionally rewarding the effort for the people you inspire so you can feel good about giving them tasks.

Inspired people work for internal motivations, emotions, and passions

Inspiration doesn’t come from bonuses, raises, corner offices, and such carrots, nor from sticks like threats of firing, demotion, and the like. It comes from existing powerfully motivating emotions.

The challenge for most aspiring leaders is to find out people’s passions since most people don’t readily share them. The seminar’s exercises walk you through how to. You’ll probably find that after a few times with its exercises, you’ll start feeling uncomfortable if you don’t connect with teammates on their passions.

Inspired people feel like they’re working for themselves, not the person who inspired them

Whatever someone looks like they’re doing, the inspired person feels like they’re doing something deeply rewarding and meaningful.

An immigrant father working to put his child through school may look like he’s working too hard, but inside, if his love for his child is driving him, he may feel great. The civil rights activist may have looked like she was risking jail for her cause, but if her passion for freedom, equality, and dignity is driving her, she may feel great too.

Inspired people feel liberated, like “Finally, I can work for the reasons I want to.”

Beyond the motivation coming from inside, feeling and acting on motivation feels deeply meaningful and a relief from life’s mundane necessities that distract you from your passions. Unless you’re doing something out of desperation from losing your home or some equivalent, to some extent you chose and worked to reach what you’re doing and aspire to more, whether it’s your job, hobby, sport, relationships, or anything you work on.

When you feel like you’re only doing it for the paycheck, you lose your passion. When you lead someone to work for their existing powerful internal motivations, they feel liberated from life’s impositions.

Inspired people feel deeply thankful to the person who inspired them

If you had a teacher, professor, or coach who made a subject, sport, or musical instrument come to life for you, you remember them for the rest of your life. You feel thankful that they turned you on to something you care about so much.

Even though you did all the work, you feel gratitude to them for enabling you to work so hard. Soldiers who fought for George Patton felt grateful to have risked their lives for him. You can feel the gratitude Kareem Abdul-Jabbar felt toward his college coach, John Wooden, beyond mere basketball when he said, “Any success that I’ve had as a parent, I really have to give Coach Wooden credit for showing me how it was done. He didn’t expect much from us. He just wanted us to do what he did, which was to get our education and learn how to compete according to the rules.”

The seminar’s exercises lead you to lead people who report to you, your teammates, your managers, your kids, your spouse, and more to feel that way about you.

Inspired people find the work rewarding in itself

When you act on your passion, what you do feels rewarding. The work becomes the physical manifestation of your passion. This effect goes beyond and deeper than activities where you lose yourself in the moment (sometimes called “flow” activities) like rock climbing or dancing.

When I co-founded my subway advertising media business I crossed paths a few times with a guy starting a business putting ads above urinals and in bathroom stalls in New York City bars and clubs. He had to go all over the city installing frames to hold the ads, then to change all the copy monthly. Though he didn’t have to contractually, his passion for his customers and business led him to cleaning the bathrooms, toilets, and urinals for no extra charge. You can imagine some were unpleasant. An outsider may have seen him cleaning toilets. In his mind he was building his business and serving his customers. It was not a flow activity, but I bet he found the work rewarding.

Last I heard he sold his business after a few years for ten million dollars.

Inspired people want to work more when the project finishes

When your work is your passion, finishing your work deprives you of your passion. You want to do more. If you inspire people, when they finish your tasks, they’ll feel motivated to come back and ask for more.

Inspired people look back fondly at the crazy amount of work they did after the project is done

I’d bet my colleague who sold his bathroom advertising business values the memories of his work building it, including cleaning toilets, as much or more than depositing the check from selling it.

When you look back at a time you acted on inspiration, if you aren’t inspired now, do you wish something made you want to devote yourself so fully like before? My business school classmates who genuinely loved finance and banking, who weren’t just in it for the money, looked back at their years of hundred-hour-weeks wistfully, valuing the time of passion and learning.

Inspired people value missing less rewarding activities, no matter how fun they would have been

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar followed the quote above on John Wooden with “… he was a disciplinarian. We learned all about those aspects of life that most kids want to skip over. He wouldn’t let us do that.” Do you sense he values his not partying in college more than people who partied valued their fun?

Inspired people care about quality and make it happen

When I hired a contractor to renovate my apartment, as best I could tell he just wanted to finish the job and move on. The quality was poor, and I’m still dealing with problems he left.

By contrast, my step-father left a well-paying corporate job to rebuild his house, mainly with his hands and tools, and has rebuilt houses for decades since. When he stepped in to fix the contractor’s mess, what he worked on looked so good they became the showpieces of my apartment. Because when people work for their passions, they care about quality and do what they can to create it.

Inspired people put aside distraction to focus on their tasks

Your passions matter more than anything else so you clear off other things for them.

Writing a paper for a class you don’t care about, you end up playing a lot of solitaire. For a class you love, you make time for the extra research to get the details how you want. When you don’t feel like going out, a few drops of rain might keep you home. When you find out that a person who inspired a big crush in you for them will be there, a torrential downpour won’t keep you away.

Inspired people feel like the person who inspired them understands them deeply

Since we care deeply about and value our passions, when someone gets us working on them, we presume they understand us.

Feeling understood feels good. Feeling deeply understood, as in for a passion, feels deeply good and liberating.

Inspired people feel loyal to the person who inspired them

We sadly live in a world where people, especially managers and leaders, don’t spend time and effort to understand others and their passions.

Would-be leaders, and mainstream society for that matter, who focus on external carrots and sticks instead of internal motivations turn what could be passionate activities—work, sports, music, education, etc—into accounting transactions of labor and deliverables for money and status. Money and status have their place, but they don’t measure up to passion and inspiration.

The rare leader who spends the time and effort to understand someone at all stands out above the rest. Among the rarer others with the skills to inspire, the more effective your skills, the more loyalty you’ll create.

Inspired people want you to lead them again

If you make someone feel good, better than any other leaders, if you give them a way to bring their passions to life, and if you make them feel understood, when their project ends, they’ll want you to lead them again. Their alternative of passionless exchange of labor for money will elevate your value to them.

Even if your leadership taught them independence from you so they could move on to lead others, they’ll always remember you with gratitude and want to reciprocate—that is, to be led by you again.

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