Seek to Inspire Instead of Only to Influence


A friend of mine shared with me a unique approach he takes before making a sales call or going into a meeting. He writes down a couple objectives he wants to accomplish in the upcoming meeting, or two or three topics to discuss. This is a good time management strategy that helps keep the meeting on target, but it’s also a great way to intentionally focus your thoughts so that you are entirely present in the conversation.

At the end of this short list, though, my friend writes down a simple, but powerful question: How can I inspire?

Think about that for just a moment. What an interesting example of challenging the status quo of communication and daily interaction with others.

We spend so much of our energy trying to influence others to understand and agree with our perspective or (and this is especially true in the sales industry) to lead them toward making a decision. Most of our conversations with others are really, if we are honest, one-sided. We are seeking to be heard, not necessarily to hear.

I’m certainly not exempt from this. I think about my daily interactions with my children, with my wife, with my coworkers and direct reports. How many of those conversations are simply me responding to something they’ve said? Or problem solving? Or giving direction, providing information or…influencing?

But what if we sought to inspire instead of to only influence?

Influencing is different from inspiring in this very fundamental way: the first, when exclusive of the second, is self-motivated (although certainly not always negative), but the other is always selfless. When we seek to influence alone, we are taking something from ourselves (our values, motives, experiences) and transposing them onto someone else, while inspiring is to awaken something within another person for their own fulfillment. At the core of inspiration is personal revelation.

You can influence when seeking to inspire, and often this is the case. The act of inspiring can be pictured as a well-lit torch igniting another. The flame passes from one who is illuminated to the next, and so on. An example of this would be how some of the best motivational speakers will use their own experiences or perspective (influencing) to awaken a paradigm shift (inspiring) in others.

It’s in the motive where the difference between influencing alone and inspiration lies.

How would it change the context of our conversations if we sought to inspire instead of only to influence? Wouldn’t it enrich the quality of our relationship with each other? Perhaps more importantly, what happens within our own character when we our motivation focus on the benefit of others rather than only on our own intentions?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” 

Genuine inspiration is contagious. Remember, we’re dealing with fire here. All it takes is for each of us to spend a little more time thinking about how we can ignite the flame in others.

And a good place to start is by asking ourselves this question at the start of each morning: “How can I inspire?”

– Sean


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