English is like many other languages, our words and their meaning overlap. However, this overlap is only partial. There is typically a degree of distinction between synonyms. This is the case in inspiration versus influence.
A thesaurus helps us here!
Some INFLUENCE thesaurus entries:
- effect result
- shape power
- mold outcome
- charm force
- act upon determining factor
- divine guidance
- thought intuition
- idea inhalation
Many times, a musician or writer will be asked, “Who are your influences?” In reality, apart from an ongoing relationship with a mentor, the word inspiration better fits a question of style.
Cynthia Morris, of http://www.originalimpulse.com, describes the difference as:
Inspiration sparks an emotional quickening. It uplifts, infuses us with hope, generates new ideas and gives us the sense of possibility and faith.
Influence exerts a specific, directive force to provoke change on a sometimes daily or consistent basis. Influence makes things happen.
Inspiration doesn’t have intent. We take our inspiration and do what we will with it. Influence has a goal, and end game. You can be someone’s inspiration without knowing you are. Influencing others requires a conscience awareness of the influence actions from the influencer. Inspiration is passive. Influence is active and intentional.
Motivation vs. Influence
Another word that frequently enters our vernacular and is used interchangeably with influence is “motivate.” There is again a difference here. Motivating’ requires giving someone a ‘motive’, usually self-interest or self-preservation along the lines; while influencing is a higher-level skill that makes the desired action their idea.
One adage says,
Motivation gets you going. Influence is what makes you go in a particular direction.
But aren’t we as humans always motivated, even if that motivation is to sit on the couch, eating potato chips, and watching soap operas? Something is driving our deepest affections, whether that is to veg-out or train for a marathon. Influence is what takes us in a particular direction.
Influence is the primary ingredient needed to move others toward an objective. Influence best happens when it is intrinsic, as extrinsic motivation is fleeting. Money, perks, and extra time off are temporary and are not tied to the actual task at hand. Those motivated by them can quickly disassociate from the mission as soon as better money, perks and extra time is offered by a less noble cause or objective. But…let someone understand THE WHY and they will see the objective itself as vital. In this case they will be influenced to join arms and march the streets of Selma for no pay while in fact putting themselves in danger. Build THE WHY into a team and you’ll have a soldier risking his life to get a fellow injured soldier out of harms way. At that moment, he won’t be thinking about a medal as motivation, rather the influence that has been poured into him will take hold as he risks life and limb to not leave any man behind.
The Two Roles of Influencers
The world is filled with shallow motivators, able to inspire people for short-sprints, but soon that wanes. What the business world needs is influential leaders who view themselves as WHY-TEACHERS and POTENTIAL EXPANDERS.
Simon Sinek is the current leading spokesman about why THE WHY is so important.
If you haven’t seen his TED Talk on Start With Why, please do yourself a huge favor and view it here.
Spend a majority of your time teaching others WHY the dream is important, and soon you’ll find yourself with an army of committed volunteers. The best influencers don’t just know what they do and how they do it, but WHY the organization exists and why should anyone care. Get people to believe in the WHY, and they are bought in for life.
The great influencers think backwards, starting with THE WHY. The what and the how merely support THE WHY. (See Simon Sinek’s Apple example in the video above).
A few people think highly of themselves in this world, but most wonder, “Do I really have what it takes?” They significantly undervalue their potential. This means there is untapped energy and solutions that remain trapped deep inside people, corked by self-doubt. A true influencer realizes that uncorking the bottle is key to growing people.
Athletic coaches are famous for getting more out of their athletes than the athlete ever thought possible. In fact, the newest research on cyclist suggests the “quit factor” occurs in the mental sphere long before the physiological limits truly take full effect.
The classic scene from the movie Facing the Giants is a fantastic visual picture of this.
Think of the favorite leaders under whom you have served? They probably pressed you and squeezed more talent and energy out of you than you ever imagined was within you. They probably drove you mad at times as they popped the cork of self-limitations, BUT THEY INFLUENCED YOU!
The Challenge of Influence
Don’t take the easy way out using only nebulous inspirational poster or temporary motivation tactics. Tap into your ability to TRULY influence others. The potential IS within you (see, I am acting as your coach right now). The WHY of my life is to help others grow in their influence. The what is the Keller Influence Indicator®, developed to help me accomplish the WHY. This assessment let’s you uncork your potential and then proceed to develop your own WHY and influence others to buy into that vision. Soon you’ll be influencing others to increase THEIR influence.
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