Authored by Tina Kapp
Ralph Waldo Emerson1 once said, “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”
There are two opposite attitudes you’ll come across in life. One type of people I’ll call motivators. People who have a motivational attitude seem to have something that inspires them to want to work harder and be better. They appear a little taller and a little smarter. They also have a knack for inspiring others to be the same. The opposite attitude is held by people I’ll call “de-motivators.” People with this attitude tend to have the opposite effect. You may end up feeling inept and negative about yourself when around them, and perhaps their “lectures” or “helpful” advice intimidates rather than inspires.
Some people say that all motivation comes from within and others can’t really determine your level of motivation, but I think many people can look back to a time they succeeded at something and can pinpoint a person who played a role or was a key influence in making that success happen. It might have been a teacher, a friend, a family member, or a mentor.
True, it is first and foremost in your court to motivate yourself. But sometimes it takes loads of willpower and determination to accomplish something you set out to do, and having someone to back you up and motivate you can make a huge difference. It was said that having Napoleon on the battlefield was like fighting against an extra 40,000 men. That’s how much his presence inspired his troops and made a difference to them.
One of the factors experts point to as being motivational is expecting good from others. If people know we expect good things from them, they will in most cases try to live up to our expectations. If we expect the worst, many times they will, unfortunately, meet those predictions as well. Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect the best outcome based simply on our expectations, but as Christians it’s our role to be our brother’s keeper, and to support and promote their well-being. When people feel this genuine concern coming from someone, it inspires them to give back in the same way.
Dr. Alan Loy McGinnis,2 author of Bringing Out the Best in People, once gave a lecture to an executive club in Toronto. An elderly, well-dressed gentleman came up to him afterwards and introduced himself. He was 74 years old and had just retired from a lifetime of making lead pencils. Dr. McGinnis thought it must be a terribly boring way to make a living and asked him if he was glad to finally be getting out of that business.
“Oh no,” he replied. “In fact, I’m going to miss it like crazy. And you know what I’m going to miss most? The friends I’ve made in this business. Some of my suppliers and customers have been my best friends for 40 years. Several of our upper-level managers are guys I hired right out of college. I’ve had a lot of satisfaction helping them succeed.”
As they talked, Dr. McGinnis learned that this man had built his business into a multimillion-dollar company and had recently sold it for a big profit. One of the keys to his success was his inherent belief in people. He had learned how to find the good in everyone he worked with and helped them build their success. In the process of helping others succeed, he benefited as well!
One of my favorite teachers was a great example of this. He knew how to interest his students in learning, and always made school seem like an adventure. Once, he decided we could do our lesson out in the park next to the pool as long as we made it a point to focus and learn. We were all happy to get out of the classroom, so that was great already. Later on, in the middle of reading to us, he dropped the book, stood up, and jumped into the pool—sneakers, glasses, clothes and all—and told us to jump in too. We were thrilled and all followed suit and swam around in our clothes before going back inside to clean up for lunch.
It wasn’t anything big or special, but I bet most of those in my class will remember that teacher forever. We respected him a lot, and if he got serious because we were misbehaving, we all felt as if we had let him down and were sincerely disappointed in ourselves. I think all of us kids felt important to him, and that he was interested in each of us and our success. He looked at our individual potential and expected great things from us, rather than just seeing us as “a bunch of kids” he had to teach and get through the day with.
De-motivators can also be manipulators, and the difference between a manipulator and a motivator is simple: manipulators get you to do something that primarily benefits them, whereas motivators inspire you to do something that benefits a greater cause, both of you, or in some cases only you.
Nehemiah was an excellent motivator. He wasn’t a king or anyone important at first; he was actually the cupbearer for a foreign king. Imagine having a career where you follow the king around, carrying his cup and giving it to him whenever he wants it. Not really what I would call the pinnacle of success.
Maybe he was also the guy who had to taste the wine first to make sure it wasn’t poisoned, but that wouldn’t make the job any more glamorous, just more dangerous. Still, I think the Lord set it up so that he would be in the palace at the right time to have a chat with the king, who then gave him permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls that had crumbled.
Nehemiah inspired people to help him and get things started, but the Israelites had a lot of enemies who didn’t want the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt and constantly threatened them.
People got discouraged, saying, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”3 Their enemies were also taunting, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”4 The people who lived near the construction site kept warning them, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”5
So Nehemiah set up a guard system to protect the builders and he gave them a pep talk, saying, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”6
His enemies even tried to trick him into leaving the work by calling him for a meeting or telling him to hide from a death threat, and every time he replied, “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”7
I think that part of what made him effective as a leader is that he didn’t sit on the side barking orders; he built and guarded right alongside his men. Their fears were his fears. Their concerns were his concerns. Their triumphs were his triumphs.
Nehemiah later became the governor of Judah and ruled for 12 years. During that time, he never took taxes from his people, which all the previous governors had done, along with demanding food and wine from their people. He chose not to do this because he knew how much his people were struggling already. The food people did give him, he shared with 150 others! It’s obvious that he cared for his people and was more interested in them rebuilding their lives than in his own success.
Dale Carnegie8 wrote a bunch of books on how to get along well with others and how to use good relations with people in your work. His advice helps on every level, whether you’re trying to sell someone on a product or manage a big company.
One of my favorite examples is one he used in How to Win Friends and Influence People about an employee who was always mixing up price tags in a store. Customers would get the wrong price and constantly complain, causing big headaches for the manager. No matter how many warnings or reminders or even confrontations, she didn’t get any better. The manager finally tried one last solution. He called her into his office and told her he was promoting her to supervisor of “price tag posting” for the entire store, and that she was now in charge of keeping all the items properly tagged. The title and responsibility paid off, and she changed her attitude completely to where she took pride in getting it right. That’s the effect of a good motivator.
You may not think you’re in a position to motivate others, but you can always start with something. Cheer on a friend who’s putting in a good effort at their sport or encourage your sibling about something they’ve accomplished. You can even try it on your mom or dad. It’s wonderful what a little encouragement can do for someone, and it’s even better when you’re the one doing the motivating.
As Anne Frank said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
1 Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803–April 27, 1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet.
2 Alan Loy McGinnis (November 10, 1933–January 9, 2005) was an author, Christian psychotherapist, and founder and direct or of the Valley Counseling Center in Glendale, California.
3 Nehemiah 4:10 NIV
4 Nehemiah 4:11 NIV
5 Nehemiah 4:12 NIV
6 Nehemiah 4:14 NIV
7 Nehemiah 6:3 NIV
8 Dale Breckenridge Carnegie (November 24, 1888–November 1, 1955) was an American writer and lecturer and the developer of famous courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training, public speaking, and interpersonal skills.
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2014 by The Family International