Inspiration and influence: what's the difference?

Written by Professional Academy Management & Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights

I'm not one for blowing my own trumpet, but one of my friends called me 'inspirational' last week. Later in the same week I was chatting to my sister over dinner who had been asked, as part of an ice-breaker activity, to identify who her influences were. This got the two of us talking about inspiration and influence - what's the difference? Is it better to be inspirational or influential? Time for some clarity.

Inspiration sparks emotions in us. It uplifts us, generates new ideas and makes us feel that things are possible. Inspiration doesn’t have intent. We take our inspiration and do what we want with it.

Some of my inspiration comes from:

  • Books
  • Articles
  • The physical environment around me

Influence has a goal. Influencing others requires a conscious awareness of exerting a force or provoking change on a consistent basis. Influence makes things happen.

Some of my influences are:

  • The weather
  • My emotions
  • My parents

Another word that often comes up when talking about inspiration and influence is 'motivation'.  Motivating is the act of giving somebody a reason or incentive to do something, usually to support the self-preservation of the person giving the 'motive'. Influencing is a higher level skill than motivating. Influencing makes the desired action feel like the other person's idea - rather than the other way round.

So what's the secret to being a great influencer? Simon Sinek (motivational speaker) says we should all 'start with why'. What the business world needs are people who understand why they do what they do.

In his 2009 TED talk Sinek states that people don't by what you do, they buy why you do it. This thinking can be applied to both businesses and individuals. Sinek says that influential companies all think, act and communicate in the same way. He has codified the process into his 'golden circle' (see figure 1). So how does it work?

Golden Circle Diagram Simon Sinek

Your 'why' is your core purpose or belief. It's not money, because money is an output. It's the reason you get out of bed in the morning. Your 'how' are the things that stand you apart from your competition or your unique selling points (USPs). Your 'what' is the product or service you provide.

Most business and individuals market themselves from the outside circle inwards, when they should be starting from the insides outwards. It's a powerful concept and one that Sinek demonstrates in action in his TED talk by using Apple as an example. Apple's 'why' is that they challenge the status quo. Their 'how' is that they make beautiful products. Their 'what' is their call to action - 'wanna buy one of our products?'.

Very few businesses or individuals can clearly articulate why they do what they do. If you can understand your 'why' then others will follow you, not because they have to, but because they believe what you believe and because they want to.

On reflection I want to be more than inspirational. I want to be influential. As a personal development specialist the reason why I do what I do is because I believe passionately that investing time in yourself leads to a happier and more fulfilling life. What is your 'why'?

If you need further advice you can contact me via LinkedIn.

Professional Academy offer a range of Management & Leadership Training as both bespoke in-company training with the option of accredited CMI qualification pathways and management & leadership qualifications for individuals looking to progress in their management career. Why not contact us today to see if we can help you with your personal development as a manager and a leader?