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31 Aug Inspire, Influence and Lead: the Hidden Power of Onions

Onions are one of my favourite metaphors for understanding oneself and one’s capacity to grow, as described in a recent article about personal and business success. How could we expand this metaphor to unpeel how understanding ourselves correlates with our ability to inspire, influence and motivate others?

Forget motivation

First up I’m going to cast doubt on what is often stated as a ‘must’ for leaders – the ability to motivate others. Strictly speaking this isn’t true. If we go by the common definition of the verb to motivate – ‘to cause someone to have interest in, or enthusiasm for, something’, I don’t believe that is possible. We can certainly create the right conditions in which it is more likely that a person or persons will feel stirred to act or agree with us, but the motivation has always to come from the person themselves.

So how do we produce that kind of magnetism that enables people to feel both comfortable enough to listen to us, and certain enough to decide, that what we do and say is credible?

Peeling the onion

For me it is all about being comfortable enough in your own skin to know your value. Just like onions, we are multi-layered. There is the outer observable layer – how we behave, how we communicate and what we do. Often we feel tempted to buff up this outer skin and make it really shiny in order to feel confident and protect what’s really going on deeper down. But it’s deeper down where the treasure often lies.

Our inner layers can contain clues as to the beliefs we are holding onto that may or not be helpful, our dearly held values which – if given breathing space – could provide the drive we seek, and crucial information about when we are in our most productive states of flow. We can also begin to understand how, what we might believe are limitations, may in fact be some of our best assets.

Cutting deep

Just as dicing an onion can cause us to cry, so can peeling and cutting into the metaphorical onion of ourselves. However, done carefully, and with self-love, the process can be nothing short of miraculous and can leave us in a position where we know and own our value, and as importantly, can spot the value in those around us, no matter how tough their outer layers are. The closer we get to this point, where we know where we make a difference and do not feel the need to be an expert in all areas, the easier it will be for us for others to lead effectively, if we so wish.

Inspire and influence

A colleague of mine recently contested my use of the word ‘influence’ with reference to leadership, preferring the alternative ‘inspire.’ Influence, which is defined as ‘having an effect on the character, development or behaviour of someone or something’ is,  I would say different to motivation. It’s less direct and leaves more room for the person being affected to make a choice. The origin of the word is telling. It is from the Latin influere, ‘into’ + ‘to flow’, and implies more imperceptible or indirect action triggering change.

The real power is, I believe, in the concept of inspiration. To inspire comes from the Latin inspirare  to breathe or blow into and is defined as the ability to ‘fill someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.’ When we stand tall and at ease in our value, it is much easier to breathe confidence into others.

Of course sometimes the situation will not allow us the luxury of waiting for willing followers. When the building is on fire or the onions are burning in the pan you will need to take command in everyone’s interest. But this should be the exception, not the rule. Practice the ‘flow’ and the ‘breath’ and the emergencies are less likely to occur.

Questions to take you further

  • How comfortable are you in your own skin? Do you own and articulate your value, and project credibility?
  • What might you find if you cut into your onion?
  • What aromas might be generated from going deep, and how could they help you inspire your team and colleagues?

I’ll leave you with a very poignant quote from John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”

Find out more about the work Clare McNamara does with leaders and their teams on influence and authenticity.

© Move Ahead Global 2016

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4 Comments
  • Tara Peyerl
    Posted at 01:36h, 01 September Reply

    Clare, I do love this! And, I have long differentiated between motivation and inspiration much like how you define them in this article. I believe Inspire to mean In-Spirit. Meaning, we are close and in touch with who we really are at the moments of true inspiration. I think Motivation is an ego centered approach telling someone or expecting someone to do something because it worked for us.

    I love your belief that our limitations may be our assets. I have heard you say that a few times, and always have longed for you to expand on that concept and go deeper. It is a unique message for you. Part of your authenticity and why I adore you so!

    I love that you are writing! This is inspiring me!!! xo

    • Clare McNamara
      Posted at 10:11h, 01 September Reply

      Thank you Tara and I love what you say about In-Spirit – it really fits. The changing perspective piece on limitations is fascinating and borne of personal experience. I do a lot of work on this individually with clients and so yes, you are right, I could expand on it in my writing. Watch this space!

  • Lisa Schiller
    Posted at 10:16h, 04 October Reply

    Thank you Clare! I love the article, it hits home with some real truths about how we need to really step back in authentic but still gentle and true self awareness and evaluation to understand who we are and what we have to offer before we can really embrace those qualities fully. That can be painful, my own life has shown me that only by being willing to reflect on areas we need to grow and learn in can we truly be honest with ourselves but in the same way as women, it’s so important that we celebrate our gifts, not hide them away under insecurity or shyness and that we are willing to pass them on… help others to grow as well… Bravo, Clare… love the concept.

    • Clare McNamara
      Posted at 17:09h, 04 October Reply

      Lisa, I especially like what you say about using our gifts to help others to grow. Sometimes pacing the focus on others can have spin-off growth for yourself when you least expect it …. a topic for another post perhaps!

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