Inspire Change. How do we actually do that, and move from buzzword to real world?  I recently saw “Inspiring change” in the May 4th front page of the Central Penn Business Journal
It reminded me that I love that term. Yet, for years I led and facilitated teams to ‘change’ without really realizing what that meant.

I thought that to motivate people towards a desired change, as a leader, I needed to inspire them. However, despite being a compelling and colorful communicator, I wasn’t always successful at making change happen. Had I been inspiring? I think so. Did change always happen? Not really.

The mismatch between my intentions and my results motivated me to study what was really happening, and figure out what really needed to happen.

I started by taking a hint from the Latin roots of the word inspire. It means “to breathe into,” similar to mouth to mouth resuscitation. Inspiring change is like that; it breathes the initial wisp of life into an idea.

Ahh. There’s the clue.  Why do we do mouth to mouth resuscitation?

We do it to INITIATE breathing.

What really needs to happen?  We need to establish breathing on one’s own.  In terms of our change, we need each team member, those DOING the change, to be breathing that change on their own.

The actual sustainability of change; that’s ASPIRATION.

Here’s what I had overlooked. The primary purpose of inspiration is to unleash personal aspiration. Inspiring change is just that initial burst; aspiring to change is the decision and persistence to breathe the change.

Inspiration gets more press and talk than aspiration. A quick search on Amazon reveals there are ten times as many books related to inspire as aspire. It seems that our business gurus have become addicted to the “inspire” term, and that we’ve bred a belief that the burden of change is on inspiration from leaders.

So, the question is…when you are leading a change, ask yourself… How do I move from the inspire to enabling the personal aspire, or, in the metaphor, to move from resuscitation to breathing?

Inspiration, like resuscitation, is an external force, an external motivation.  External motivations, be they lofty words from a leader or incentives from a manager, only work as long as that extrinsic method is applied.  In other words, the breathing is completely dependent on the resuscitation.  As leaders, if we are trying to lead change, we need to stop relying on extrinsic motivation. We need to assist aspiration. 

We must remove the fear of change and enable joy in change. In Peter Senge’s best-selling work entitled The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, he states that to move towards an idea, a vision, the inspiration creates the force that pulls us towards it, like a big bungee connected between our will and the idea.  But there’s another bungee at work, and it’s holding us back. It’s anchored to our comfortable habits and our belief that moving beyond that experience base is fraught with failure. This is the bungee that is suffocating the will to change, blocking our aspiration.

Only when we as leaders look at our role in promoting ASPIRATION will we begin to answer why, after the inspirational start, change is faltering. It’s a humbling experience. Many times we’ll find that we are kneeling on the very chest that we are trying to resuscitate.

While there are many ways to take this hard look at how we are enabling aspiration, here are the two questions I ask myself:

  • Am I leading this as a joy-filled experience, leading this a change towards something rather than away from something? This isn’t about putting a positive spin on it; it’s about eliminating fear of change. Using the popular “burning platform” motivation is effective for inspiration, lousy for aspiration.
  • Am I serving each person so as to grow in this change? I need to take an honest look at what enables my aspire. Am I operating from a what’s-in-it-for-me syndrome? As a serving leader, my concern must be how this change help others to grow in connectedness and capability.

Now it’s your turn. After that inspiring start, get to work on enabling the aspire to change.  I hope these two questions help you see the difference between our inspire habit and where we need to encourage to aspire to see the change realized.

Looking for a resource to guide you toward enabling joy and therefore the aspire on your team?  Check out Paul’s easy to read novel explaining how this journey of inspiring change works in everyday life.Enabling Joy Available

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