The Myth of Inspiration: Why it Sometimes Doesn’t Work

Businessman with hands in pocket looking out door to blue sky

The belief that leaders who use inspiration more than fear to change minds and behavior are more effective has been substantiated. Fear creates resentment and although it can motivate people into action, it decreases their capacity to think creatively.

Inspiration creates excitement and often gratitude, which increases the brain’s capacity for imagination and original thoughts. Inspiration both changes and expands people’s minds and behavior.

The myths around inspiration have to do with how it is achieved. Most people think acts of inspiration are based in building confidence and providing support. This includes sharing a compelling vision that rouses optimism and hope.

These actions do inspire people who lack confidence and purpose. But this type of inspiration could backfire or at least, fall flat with someone who is stuck in a habitual or narrow pattern of thinking, who doubts the future based on past disappointments, or who resists help or suggestions.

When wanting to inspire someone, rah rah is blah, blah to the confident but negative person.

This is one of the reasons I wrote, The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs, to provide a means to shift people’s thinking so they see possibilities on their own. When you use reflections and questions that help to reveal blind spots and gaps in logic, people instantly reframe situations and change. They may not be happy with you in the moment, but as they move forward, they come to appreciate the way you challenged their thinking and opened their eyes to new ways to achieve their goals.

Leaders Open Doors book Author Bill Treasurer says the conversations that shift perspective can be very inspirational. In the new edition of the book, Leaders Open Doors.  Treasurer says the best leaders open doors of perception and possibility, which lead to new opportunities. He clarifies that leaders who hold conversations of “purposeful discomfort” are not focused on what is wrong and needs to be fixed.

Instead, they help people see how they are stopping themselves from achieving what they want—a bigger sense of self and better opportunities to achieve their goals. The discomfort comes from disrupting negative mental routines and nudging people to face their fears. Treasurer says, “The truth only hurts if it should.”

Of the many doors a leader can open, Treasurer says the Thought-Shifting Door might be the most profound and remembered by people. We are forever indebted to the leaders who break through our barriers so we see ourselves and the world around us more broadly.

Opening the Thought-Shifting Door takes courage, but when you do, it shows you care about people and their success. This is why the results lead to long-lasting inspiration. “Good leaders help us become better people,” Treasurer says, “and for that, we are profoundly grateful.”

Leaders Open Doors is a quick and powerful read full of brilliantly simple techniques for growing people’s minds. It could make a great New Year’s gift for someone setting his or her leadership goals for 2015. If you buy it, you are also helping others. Bill Treasurer is donating 100% of the royalties for the book to charities that support children with special needs, a cause close to his heart.

Do you want to be a true inspiration for others this year? Be generous with your praise. For the people who are stuck, take the time to help them stop and think about their thoughts and feelings so they might see what else could be true and possible.

Start by sharing what you see as the negative impact of their behavior on their goals. Then let them react and tell you their story. Help them clarify how they see the situation, acknowledging their point of view and feelings, and then:

  1. Ask if they would be willing to look at the situation in a new way so they might achieve a goal they desire.
  2. Summarize what they said to make sure you are witness to their perspective. Identify what you agree with.
  3. When you hear a beliefs or assumptions based on opinions or emotions, ask how they know these views are true. Ask them to look at what else could be possible in the situation.
  4. Share what emotions you notice they are experiencing and what you think could be causing them to feel that way. Don’t judge their emotions, just help them explore what is causing their disappointment, resentment, or stress. Also, don’t be afraid to be wrong when sharing what you sense; your guess could lead them to explore their reactions more deeply. Accept their responses (don’t push your perspective). You are there to help them reflect on their situation, not to fix their thinking.
  5. Notice when they share a possible different perspective or solution and ask what they could do with this new idea to help them move forward.

With patience, you will help people see outside the box by recognizing the box they are living in. The freedom they feel is inspiring.


If you would like to have me speak at your upcoming event or talk about leadership training and coaching, please reach to me at:

Marcia Reynolds

tel:+1 602 954 9030

1 thought on “The Myth of Inspiration: Why it Sometimes Doesn’t Work”

  1. Both you and Bill strike a very important chord: speaking the truth in a way that is helpful make more sense than being “inspirational”. When I get a call asking for a “motivational speaker”, I always cringe. It means there are deeper issues that no one is willing to tackle. As you can guess, the hard conversation then begins. Many thanks to both of you! Excellent books: both of them

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top