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The critical difference between leadership and motivation

3 min read


Here’s something that might surprise you: The best leaders do not attempt to motivate their employees, athletes, students or children.

In fact, those people in leadership positions who try to light fires for others tend to not keep their jobs for long. However, those who know the difference between leadership and motivation create a different legacy; their impact on others endures.

The difference between leadership and motivation, to me, is summed up like this:

  • Leadership: A consistent example of rising above any and all circumstances. Leadership is external.
  • Motivation: The inner knowledge or insight that makes rising above circumstances possible. Motivation comes from within.

So, in my opinion, leadership is not about encouraging, pushing or cheering on; it’s about pointing others inward so they recognize that the ability to be motivated rests with them. If you are a parent, for instance, you know that it is virtually impossible to motivate your children to work hard at their studies. But you can lead. You can show your children, by example, that no matter how sick you might get or how difficult your circumstances might appear, you can passionately apply yourself to your own job or projects. Thereby pointing your children inward to their innate ability to rise above any circumstance (and excuse) and crack the books with pride and vigor.

My message about leadership is simple: Great leaders serve to bring out the inner wisdom and free will of those they serve. Instead of inducing people to view life situations a certain way (or their way), great leaders demonstrate that there are an infinite number of ways to view any life situation.

To illustrate, one of my mentors, Sydney Banks, must have given hundreds of seminars and lectures during his lifetime. Like clockwork before each talk, the audience would file in with notebooks in hand. While Syd was incredibly generous with his wisdom, he would always instruct those in attendance not to take one single note. His words were his alone — his interpretation of “truth,” he would say. He wanted the audience to develop their own feelings and ideas, and draw their own conclusions, not follow in his footsteps.

I believe, then, that great leaders are those individuals who, like Sydney Banks, set great examples. Why can’t we simply leave leadership right there? Who came up with the belief that leaders must be motivators of others anyway? We must recognize the difference between leadership and motivation, because if we don’t, our companies, teams, schools and even families will be overrun by followers incapable of lending an imaginative hand, let alone coming through when the chips are down.

Motivation is personal; leadership brings out personal potential for the benefit of the greater good. Take note of the difference. The business, sports and political worlds — actually the world, in general — can use more of both.

Garret Kramer is founder of Inner Sports. His clients include Olympians, NHL, NFL, MLB and collegiate players and coaches. He often conducts seminars about his “inside-out” approach to performance excellence. Kramer has been featured on WFAN-AM, ESPN, FOX, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated and Forbes. He is author of the book, “Stillpower: Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life.” Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.