How Do We Inspire Others?

Taxis through Lalique Windows at Henri Bendel 5th Ave.

Several months ago I began to wonder if the highest potential in each of us isn’t simply to encourage the highest potential in others.  That question has been a powerful force for me, bringing with it all sorts of other questions.

What is it that inspires us humans to be our very best – to reach for our highest potential?

We all know that when someone is aiming their passion at something they care about, magic not only can happen, but routinely does happen.  How can we encourage others to find that magic inside themselves?

According to research by Dr. Barry Schwartz (as described in his talk at TED here), the thing that inspires us to do right by others is the extent to which we tap into the  “practical wisdom” each of us possesses, based on our own experience.

As consultants and teachers, as social workers and directors of arts organizations, as parents of young children and as adult children of aging parents, how can we bring out the highest potential in those around us?  How can we trust the wisdom of others, to inspire what Dr. Schwartz describes as their own “moral skill and moral will,” leading them to that high potential?

How can we get beyond words that show how little we trust the judgment of others?

  • Have to / Must / Need to
  • Should
  • Convince / Persuade / talk them into / get them to do it
  • They refuse / won’t

We are all so quick to assume others will not rise to the occasion (or even more harmful, that they are incapable of doing so). What words can we use, to substitute for the list of shoulds and cannots and will nots?

What words are you using? What questions are you asking?

In each and every part of your life, what are you doing to inspire the practical wisdom that exists in others – and in yourself?

Photo credit (me): 5th Ave Taxis thru the Lalique Windows at Henri Bendel

9 Responses to How Do We Inspire Others?

  1. You are getting at one of the most important issues here, and that is this: How do we view other people – and how does that view influence how we collaborate?

    Do we see this limitations?
    Do we see their infinite capabilities?

    The difference has to do with our own spiritual mindset (or heartset). One approach is exhausting – the other is energizing.

    How can I see the limitless in others – in practical terms?


  2. Hildy –

    Your last sentence about inspiring others by inspiring ourselves really resonated with me. Perhaps we inspire best when we are ‘comfortable in our own skin’ and can inspire by the model we set with our own actions (as you do so well!). I recently heard an (amateur but very thoughtful) speaker reflect on those he most admired and respected and found a common characteristic was that they were all comfortable in their own skin / at peace with themselves. Perhaps if more of the work of helping others, starts with ourselves, the “musts” will turn to “did you consider?” in a natural way…

  3. Hildy, In conversations with coaching clients and workshop participants, I focus on helping them see the possibilities and opportunities rather than the limitations. When I hear the “I have to because/I should/they should etc.” languaging, some of the questions I ask are: “Is that really true? How do you know it is true? What if it was not true?”. (nod to Byron Katie’s work)

    I often ask people; “what kind of work (whether it exists in the world or not) would you be doing if money was not an issue and you knew you could not fail?” This question helps open the door to inspired futures.

  4. This is a great question for all of us to consider. I had a wonderfully insightful friend who used to say, “Don’t should on others or yourself.” I love the question, “How is that working for you?” Although, it may be used somewhat flipantly by some. I also like to ask, “What else have you considered, tried, or haven’t considered?” I also agree that how we respond to life can be the best inspiration for others.

  5. My feeling is that if we have a low opinion of ourselves, we will have a low opinion of others. That was true of me for a long time. Then years ago, when I was at a particularly low point, I had a chance to watch a video of myself as a child. I was the one dancing around, laughing, being playful and bringing smiles to the faces of others around me. And I realized: if that’s my gift, I still have it, and I ought to use it. So now I do the same thing with everyone I meet: really look at them, give them a big smile to show I appreciate them for no apparent reason (think checkout clerk), and I realize most of them are caught by surprise, but can’t help smiling back. And in some way, that is acknowledgment that someone has appreciated them, no matter what they are doing in their lives.

  6. John, Bonnie, Dee, Lee Ann – WONDERFUL questions to add to the list! Your questions are inspiring me think about what others I might add as well. Which makes me think about the power in brainstorming about what is possible, what works for others, bringing good ideas all together in one big pot – another way we inspire and encourage the wisdom in others. Thank you all for that!

    And Donna, I cannot thank you enough for sharing your own story. In addition to asking questions, sharing our own stories from a place of honesty and empathy is another great way to inspire. I know your story has inspired me! Thank you for that!


  7. All too often people spend their time considering how they might get ahead, how they can succeed to the point where life itself becomes a bizarre contest. I witness people putting others down in a vain attempt to position themselves higher, not realizing that no one can win in this type of environment.

    Bonnie raises a great point – people who are comfortable with who they are, who are at peace with themselves and have a well-developed sense of personal worth – these people are the ones that you often see taking the time to inspire others. They are not worried about who will “get credit” for a course of action with positive results nor are they preoccupied with “proving” themselves – they are focused on believing in the potential of the other person, supporting their efforts, and inspiring them to achieve amazing things.

    I used to work with college student, advising them as they planned volunteer and advocacy work. At first, I was tempted to jump in and lead them until I realized that wasn’t my role. My role was to act as a safety net – to jump in and help when necessary, but really to be present, listen, believe in them and provide them with the tools and skills they needed to succeed. And what an incredible feeling it was when they achieved their goals, looked around and realized they did it themselves.

    The story I shared made me think of this quote from Lao Tsu: Go to the People; Live among them; Love them; Learn from them; Start from where they are; Work with them; Build on what they have. But of the best leaders, When the task is accomplished, The work completed, The people all remark: “We have done it ourselves.” Isn’t this, in a sense, about inspiring others?

    Thanks, Hildy, for making me stop and really think about this.

  8. Hildy: The key point in your message that sticks with me is the refernce to the “practical wisdom within” us. Learning to listen to our own internal voices, having faith in our own judgement, and following where the voice leads is my foundation. That habit leads to the strength needed to listen to others, work from a base of trust and respond from a point of view outside ourselves.

    The tie to collaborations is a natural outcropping of building this type of relationship. True vision of possibilities rises from the connection of pure communication.

    End of sermon.

  9. Micky:
    I am smiling – the Lao Tzu quote is the very first page in the workbook for our Consultant Immersion Course! It is so very very true. And an odd thing to consider – that the only way to inspire others is to disappear, to be selfless – and yet, as you and Bonnie mention, the only way to be selfless is to know onesself and be comfortable with onesself.

    And Vicki:
    YES! Listening and finding the strength in others IS inpsiring! Please don’t end your sermons – keep ’em coming!