Inspiration Trumps Coercion And Motivation

Just read an excellent article on the Business Week site called The Era Of Inspiration which looked at the leaderships styles of Tom Coughlin (NY Giants Coach), Herb Kelleher (former chairman of Southwest Airlines), and Bill Marriott (CEO of Marriott). It discusses three different management styles: coercion, motivation, and inspiration.

Coughlin was considered an “autocratic tyrant,” but became more inclusive, creating a leadership council of 11 players. In effect, he shifted his style from coercion to inspiration. The changed paid off with a Superbowl championship

The article also quoted Kelleher who was Southwest Airlines’ beloved leader:

If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, a willing basis, the fewer hierarchies and control mechanisms you need.

The article also makes the following key point:

Unlike coercion and motivation, the source of inspired conduct is intrinsic and internal. Inspired employees act on something they believe in; they are in the grip of ideas; they are compelled by a deeper purpose and propelled by values they hold fundamental.

My take: Inspiration is a fundamental part of good leadership; and it’s important that leaders instill a strong sense of purpose with their people.

The bottom line: Get your people do things because they want to, not because you want them to do it.

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I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

2 thoughts on “Inspiration Trumps Coercion And Motivation”

  1. I feel like the original article makes an artificial distinction by implying that an ‘autocratic tyrant’ cannot be inspirational, or really that coercion, motivation and inspiration are different points on the same axis. You don’t pick one of them, they are each a piece of the toolkit, which it seemed the author was on to when he said:

    “Coercion and motivation remain necessary and valuable leadership approaches, but they are no longer sufficient on their own because the world has changed.”

    Maybe it’s an academic point. I doubt anyone would support the notion that uninspired employees or customers are better than inspired ones. =)

  2. Eric: You’re right. Sometimes, in some situations, coercion and motivation are perfectly appropriate. From my experience, though, many leaders underuse the inspirational approach.

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