As a young and inexperienced leader, one of my earliest recollections was a challenge by an equally young and inexperienced member of my team. He was popular and influential with his peers. However, leaders agreed he was just trouble.   Crucially, he decided he was going to make life as difficult as he could for me. With no support available from anyone experienced, I pondered my options. One day my dithering was over when after taking an overly extended and extremely inconvenient lunch break he swanned back into the office.   When I asked to have a quick word, he swore at me in front of the team.  As it turned out, it was my first situation where I became aware of understanding the difference between inspiring and motivating a team member

Defining moment

It was a defining moment for me on a number of fronts. The most vital being the consequences of putting off taking decisive action on a team member’s behaviour well before it reached a critical point.  My mind was recognising the difference between inspiring and motivating this particular person. I realised I needed to do something completely different.

Expressing disappointment

Once we got over the formality of the strong warning he received, I decided to be wholly frank. I explained the effect his behaviour was having. At the same time, I also expressed my disappointment that he was selling himself short. I managed to get him to talk about his future. I teased out of him about what he wanted. Most importantly I painted a vivid picture of where his behaviour was headed if he didn’t change. I asked him if that was what he wanted. Of course, he didn’t.

I didn’t focus on his misdemeanour.  I showed an interest in what made him tick instead.  Once I showed an interest in his intrinsic motivation his attitude towards me changed.  His behaviour changed from that day, and we never looked back. It took him about 5 years, and we had long since lost touch.  However, when I read he had been appointed to the role he had at that time told me he would love to do, I had to smile.

How do you reach your team?

Being able to reach your team, with the intent to bring out the best of them requires you to understand the difference between inspiring and motivating your team.  The most powerful way is to find deep intrinsic and meaningful purpose. Less effective although sometimes necessary is to extrinsically motivate them to reach milestones in their career or lives.   Both have a place, but if you only reach the motivation stage, then you have missed an opportunity to connect at the deepest level.

On the occasions I have asked leaders about how they reach their team, their answer usually reveals whether they consciously or unconsciously know how to inspire, or motivate.   A higher self leader will have the self-awareness to understand the difference between inspiring and motivating.  As a result, they will, where possible help their team member to connect in a very fundamental way.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic – Inspire or Motivate

Motivation is the driving force behind our behaviours, actions, and achievements. It is what keeps us going when faced with challenges and setbacks. However, not all motivation is created equal. There are two main types of motivation. Intrinsic and extrinsic. Understanding the difference is crucial for personal growth, productivity, and success.

1. Intrinsic motivation

 Intrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that comes from within. It is the drive to do something because it is inherently satisfying, enjoyable, or fulfilling. Intrinsic motivation is often associated with activities that we find pleasurable, stimulating, or interesting. Examples of intrinsic motivation include pursuing hobbies, learning new skills, and engaging in creative activities.

Research has shown that intrinsic motivation leads to better performance. It results in higher levels of creativity, and greater overall well-being. When we are intrinsically motivated, we are more likely to take on challenges. We will persist in the face of setbacks, and experience a sense of autonomy and mastery.

When we are intrinsically motivated, our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure and reward. Dopamine is released in anticipation of a pleasurable experience, as well as during the experience itself. This means that the more we engage in intrinsically motivating activities, the more our brain rewards us for doing so.

2. Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from external factors. It is the drive to do something in order to receive a reward or avoid punishment. Extrinsic motivation can take many forms. These can include financial incentives, social recognition, and praise from others. Examples of extrinsic motivation include studying for a test to receive a good grade, working hard to get a promotion, or completing a task to avoid criticism.

Extrinsic motivation can be effective in driving behaviour and achieving goals. This is especially true in situations where there is a clear and immediate reward or consequence. It can also provide a sense of direction and purpose. Especially when the task at hand is not inherently enjoyable or interesting.

When we are extrinsically motivated, our brain responds differently than when we are intrinsically motivated. Rather than releasing dopamine, the brain releases cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is associated with anxiety and negative emotions. This means that while extrinsic motivation can be effective in the short term, overreliance on extrinsic motivators can lead to burnout, decreased job satisfaction, and reduced creativity.

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation have their benefits. Research suggests that a balance of both types of motivation is crucial for sustained motivation and well-being. For example, while extrinsic motivators can help jumpstart a project or provide a sense of direction, it is important to find ways to make the task intrinsically motivating as well. This can be achieved by finding a personal connection to the task, seeking out challenges, and finding ways to make the task enjoyable.

The Neuroscience of Inspiring and Motivating

So as we discussed earlier, Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in a behaviour because it is personally rewarding or enjoyable. Extrinsic motivation involves engaging in a behaviour to achieve a tangible outcome or to avoid negative consequences.

Understanding the difference between inspiring and motivating as well as the Neuroscience of these two distinct levers is important.  Knowing how your brain processes these two states is key to getting the best out of your team. These two types of motivation are processed differently in the brain. Intrinsic motivation is associated with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Extrinsic motivation is associated with the lateral orbital prefrontal cortex.

1. The Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex

The region of the brain that processes information related to personal value and decision-making is the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). The reward system is associated with this area, which releases dopamine and other neurotransmitters when an individual engages in behaviour that they find personally rewarding or enjoyable. When someone plays a musical instrument or reads a book, for example, they activate the vmPFC and experience feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.

2. The Lateral Orbital Prefrontal Cortex

The lateral orbital prefrontal cortex (lOFC) processes information related to culturally assigned values and social norms. This brain region is associated with the cognitive control system, which assists individuals in regulating their behaviour to meet external expectations and goals. When someone works to earn a salary or completes a task to receive praise, for instance, they activate the lOFC and experience feelings of accomplishment or relief.

3. Processing Motivation and Inspiration

Breaking down the process of engaging in behaviour, several stages are involved. First, individuals must perceive the behaviour as relevant and important, which can activate the vmPFC for intrinsic motivation or the lOFC for extrinsic motivation. Next, they must create an intention to engage in the behaviour, which various factors such as personal values, social norms, and external rewards can influence. Finally, they must execute the behaviour and evaluate the outcome, which can result in feelings of pleasure or satisfaction for intrinsically motivated behaviour, or feelings of accomplishment or relief for extrinsically motivated behavior.

In general, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are two distinct but interrelated processes that involve different regions of the brain. By comprehending how these processes operate and how the brain processes them, individuals can employ both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to accomplish their goals and lead a satisfying life.

Illustrating the process

To illustrate the difference between inspiring and motivating, let’s take some real-life examples.

1. Dancing and competition

 A friend loves dancing.  She is intrinsically motivated to dance purely for the enjoyment it brings. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) in her brain is activated when she dances.  She experiences feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. The reward system releases dopamine and other neurotransmitters that reinforce this behaviour, which helps her to know that dancing is an essential part of her life.

However, when she enters a dance competition, her motivation shifts from intrinsic to extrinsic. She needs to use a different part of her brain because her experience in competition is so contrasting. Entering the competition means that she is now dancing to achieve a tangible outcome, such as winning a prize or receiving recognition.

Her brain’s lateral orbital prefrontal cortex (lOFC) is activated, and she experiences feelings of accomplishment or relief. In this scenario, the cognitive control system releases dopamine and other neurotransmitters that reinforce this experience, making it more probable that she will choose to continue dancing competitively.

The Shift

However, despite the potential rewards associated with competitive dancing, my friend began to enjoy dancing less. This is because the shift to extrinsic motivation interfered with the intrinsic enjoyment of the activity. For example, in this situation, she may have started to focus more on winning than on the experience of dancing itself. This can lead to stress, anxiety, and a decrease in enjoyment, which can dampen the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the reward system.

Someone else in this or a similar situation may find that their motivation to dance competitively wanes over time. They may begin to question whether the external rewards are worth the loss of intrinsic enjoyment, or they may find that they prefer dancing for the sheer pleasure of it rather than for external recognition or prizes.

In summary, the brain processes involved in motivation can be complex and interrelated. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can activate different regions of the brain, and a shift in motivation from intrinsic to extrinsic can affect the enjoyment of an activity. By understanding these processes, individuals can better leverage their motivation to achieve their goals and live fulfilling life.

2. Music and Qualifications

A relative of mine has a deep passion for music and was intrinsically motivated to pursue a career in the field. He decided to go to university to study music, as he wanted to deepen his knowledge and skills in the subject. During the application process, he felt excited and motivated by the prospect of studying something he loved.

However, once he started his degree, he began to feel a shift in his motivation from intrinsic to extrinsic. His focus necessary shifted to obtaining a degree and achieving good grades, rather than on the experience of learning and engaging with music. This led to feelings of stress, anxiety, and a decrease in enjoyment of the subject.

The Pressure

As the pressure to perform academically increased, his intrinsic motivation for music began to wane. He started to feel like he was simply going through the motions, completing assignments and attending lectures, without the same level of enjoyment he felt when studying music on his own terms. The release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the reward system dampened, as the focus shifted to external rewards such as grades and qualifications.

As a result, he began to question his decision to study music at university. He felt like he had lost the joy in his love for music, and that the degree was now more of a burden than a passion. He noticed a decrease in his motivation to pursue a career in the music industry. The intrinsic motivation that had initially driven him to study music was now overshadowed by extrinsic motivators.

In summary, the shift from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation can have a significant impact on an individual’s enjoyment and motivation for an activity. It is important for individuals to be aware of these shifts and to take steps to maintain their intrinsic motivation, even in the face of external pressure and demands. This can involve finding ways to reconnect with the intrinsic enjoyment of the activity, such as taking breaks, exploring new areas of interest, or seeking out opportunities to engage with music outside of the academic context.

The Cost of Ignoring Inspiring and Motivating

Neglecting employee motivation is a critical mistake. It’s a false economy where the perceived savings on time and costs ultimately harm productivity and profits. Companies fail to see that by not investing in motivation, they risk losing their most valuable asset: a driven and dedicated workforce.

Many organizations boast extensive professional development programs. They expect motivation to peak as employees engage in structured development plans, often dictated by management. Yet, this carrot-and-stick method, rewarding compliance and punishing deviation, may not truly resonate with what motivates an employee at a fundamental level.

The Real Reason for Job-Hopping

Contrary to popular belief, managers often leave not for better pay but due to a lack of development and progression. They seek value and purpose, and when these are absent, motivation plummets, prompting them to seek new opportunities.

Inspiring Your Team

And so turning to your team. As a leader, it’s important to encourage your team members to work hard and achieve their goals. However, while extrinsic motivation, such as rewards or recognition, can be effective in the short term, it’s not sustainable in the long run. Intrinsic motivation, or inspiration, on the other hand, comes from within and drives individuals to work towards their personal goals. To reach your team members, it’s essential to consider how they are motivated and understanding the difference between inspiring or motivating them is a really useful piece of information.   Here are some ways you can inspire your team.

1. Provide Autonomy

People are often inspired when they feel in control of their work. They own and take responsibility for their contribution.   As a leader, you can provide autonomy by allowing team members to make decisions and take ownership of their work. Instead of micromanaging, set outcome-based objectives and allow individuals to find their own ways to achieve them. By giving your team members more control, they can feel intrinsically motivated to do their best.

2. Encourage Personal Development

People are inspired when they feel like they’re improving and growing. The power of experiencing those “Ah Ha” moments at work, will really add value to their time in your team. Encourage personal development by providing training, mentoring, and coaching. Set aside time for team members to work on their personal goals, and encourage them to share what they’re learning with the rest of the team.

3. Build Strong Relationships

People can be inspired when they feel like they’re part of a supportive team. Build strong relationships with your team members by showing empathy, providing feedback, and recognizing their accomplishments. Foster a positive work environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns.

4. Develp A Values-Driven Purpose

People are inspired when they feel like their work has a purpose and that purpose satisfies their internal values system.   As a leader, you can promote meaningful work by connecting team members to the company’s mission and vision, through their values system.  Help them understand how their work contributes to the overall goals of the organization.

5. Offer Challenging Work

People are can be intrinsically motivated when they’re challenged to be the best they can be.  Provide opportunities for team members to work on challenging projects or take on new responsibilities. By pushing them out of their comfort zone, you’ll help them develop new skills and build confidence.

6. Celebrate Success

 Celebrate success by recognizing team members for their accomplishments. Take the time to acknowledge their hard work and the impact it has had on the team and the organization. By celebrating success, you’ll create a positive work environment that fosters motivation and encourages continued growth.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, understanding the difference between inspiring and motivating is a great place of self-awareness.  Intrinsic motivation is key to creating a highly motivated and engaged team. As a leader, you can provide autonomy, encourage personal development, build strong relationships, promote meaningful work, offer challenging work, and celebrate success to intrinsically motivate your team members. By implementing these strategies, you’ll create a work environment that fosters personal and professional growth, leading to a highly motivated and successful team.

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I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

I collaborate with leadership experts, managers and HR professionals to help them get their own message and unique services and products to a wide audience.