The Important Difference Between Inspiration and Motivation

Courtesy of Agents of Efficiency

For years I thought that inspiration and motivation meant the same thing. But the more I thought about it, did some research, and became a student of people, the more I came to believe there’s a very important distinction. The subtle difference between the words can make a world of difference in leading people.

Merriam-Webster defines inspiration as follows: “Something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create.”

Here’s what it says for motivation: “The act or process of giving someone a reason for doing something.”

Inspiration is more a person reaching a point of wanting to act, whereas, motivation is more of giving people reasons to act. That’s the difference between babysitting and empowerment, incentives or influence, fire-starters and fire extinguishers.

There is a need for both inspiration and motivation. But to lead effectively, knowing the difference makes a tremendous difference.

When we try to motivate people by using positive incentives, and perhaps even some negative tactics, that’s using outward things to enter the heart where real change takes place. This can work to some degree but the effect is often temporary.

When we try to inspire people, we’re reaching for the heart in a way that the person is changed from the inside out. When people want to change because there has been a deep stirring in their heart, it’s sustainable and leads to long-term vibrancy.

There was a time in my life when I consistently sought encouragement from others as my main source of motivation. Sometimes I’d get it, other times I wouldn’t. I needed the encouragement to perform well.

Then I began to be inspired by a purpose-driven challenge in my life, as well as some individuals who helped me understand that what I do should not define who I am. This changed everything.

With motivation, I was looking for reasons to be a better me to maximize performance. With inspiration, I understood who I was and, as a natural byproduct, I was able to accomplish things that I never thought were possible.


Robb Holman is author of the highly anticipated book Lead the Way, keynote speaker, and the Founder/CEO of Holman International, a global leadership consultancy revolutionizing the way business leaders operate.

Robb Holman is an internationally recognized leadership expert, executive coach, keynote speaker, and bestselling author who has a heart for authentic relationships and a true talent for equipping people with the skills and the knowledge necessary for their success.