Does Inspiration Matter?

How important do you believe it is for people to be inspired about their work? Does inspiration really make a difference or is it a concept that is merely getting a lot of buzz these days? I am on the “makes a difference” side, and a recent episode reinforces why.

I recently attended a talk given by an author named Susan Conroy, whom I had never heard of.  In talking about her work she said, “In this hell on earth, I experienced Heaven and I felt that I could touch God.” Wow, that is a pretty bold feeling, especially from a hell on earth.

The backstory is that Susan spent 11 years of her life, working side by side with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, serving the poorest of the poor in the most miserable of conditions. There, the streets were crammed with humans living in indescribable poverty among rats, roaches, filth and waste. Susan and the other Missionaries of Charity cared for people suffering with or dying from tuberculosis, leprosy, and every other disease borne out of such horrible conditions. And yet in this environment of incomprehensible misery, where babies were abandoned, and countless other human beings were living in total squalor, and dying on the streets in complete loneliness, Susan saw Heaven.

Now for anyone who believes in God, finding Heaven on earth is about as inspiring as it gets.

I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that no matter how difficult your working conditions are, they are nothing like Susan’s had been. Yet she reflected on those days with great joy and fulfillment. Perhaps working side by side with a genuine saint, will do that for you. (In September of 2016, Mother Teresa was officially named St. Teresa of Calcutta by Pope Francis.)

For you see, Susan – and those others with whom she worked – were inspired. They had found a meaningful purpose, and knew they were making a difference for others truly in need of help, support, and human compassion. That inspiration provided them with the fuel they needed not just to survive in a dreadful environment, but to actually find joy and fulfillment there. That is what inspiration does. Even in a place like Calcutta.

For people close to God, inspiration may come more naturally from doing the Lord’s work, especially when right beside someone seen as the living presence of God.

But how is it for the masses of others not involved in anything resembling this kind of holy endeavor? The good news is that inspiration is not something which only occurs from divine intervention. I have met people inspired by picking up trash, providing mortgage loans, working in the world of television, and doing just about everything else. And their inspiration gave them more fire in their bellies to accomplish more and make a real difference, than many of their uninspired co-workers had. It also gave them more fire than the times when they were being forced to do something, or simply apathetic about taking any kind of action.

The secret to inspiring others is not about becoming a truly gifted motivational speaker (although that never hurts!). Rather, it is about connecting people to something they find personally purposeful and meaningful. And, if you are willing to listen carefully, your people will likely give you very clear clues on what makes them feel inspired in their work.

However, be mindful that it is usually not the work itself that lifts people up, rather the intended outcomes of the work. People will often gladly tolerate unexciting tasks and far too many meetings, if they can see how those activities are leading to something extraordinary and fulfilling.

So along with your daily dose of emails, texts, meetings and everything else, focus some energy of how you can better connect people with something that really matters to them, in the work they have been hired to do. Listen to them, give them freedom and discretion, keep showing them how their work matters – these are examples of actions well within your abilities as a leader, which can have great impact on people. My guess is you will soon feel more inspired by the joy and accomplishments you will see from them.

Comments

  1. Jodi Landers says:

    I agree that inspiration absolutely matters! It is the doorway to innovation, risk, dedication and many other things necessary to making a difference in the world.

    Great article Steve!!

    • I have found that a lot of people show up the first day on the job pretty inspired. Then poor systems, lousy bosses, crazy politics, and other things work to squelch it. It takes some real effort to help people become and remain inspired. Thanks for the comment.

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