The more I’ve studied, practiced, and observed emotional intelligence, the more I believe that we can’t motivate other people. That realization occurred to me several years ago when we had two Mentor Team Meetings in a row in which executives of different companies were curious about how to motivate specific team members. As each conversation unfolded with questions and shared experiences, I kept noticing that there wasn’t one example where a leader truly motivated a team member. Instead, Mentors spoke of things “clicking” or people gradually turning things around. And, of course, several simply acknowledged the hard truth – that it’s really hard to motivate other people. That subject was the basis of Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, in which he analyzes the science of motivation theory and shares many studies that have been done on the topic. He also breaks down intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation: that internal drivers (like autonomy, mastery, and purpose) build sustainable motivation over time while external drivers (such as rewards and incentives) can produce quick, short-term results but are not sustainable. That was the key that unlocked the motivation mystery for me. Given what I had learned about emotional intelligence up until that point, all of a sudden I realized that a leader’s job was less to motivate someone and more to inspire them. The challenge is in the middle, where the leader must get to know the team member well enough to learn what motivates them. And this usually doesn’t happen simply by asking. Our true motivations are highly complex and come from deep within us, reflected by a mix of history, language, emotions, behaviors, and actions. Our motivators capture our ambitions and priorities, and rarely match up with other people’s motivations, making teamwork and collaboration a challenge in itself. Similarly, our ability to inspire comes from deep within us and is equally complex, perhaps more so. It requires high self-awareness, controlled self-management, and an acute social awareness. That mix of self-mastery and understanding of others must be effectively blended to find a middle ground that harmonizes our ability to inspire with the other person’s motivations. And when we find that sweet spot, we give breath to the other person. After all, the origin of the word “inspire” comes from “to take in; to breathe.” So the next time we’re challenged with someone who we don’t believe is motivated, what if we flip our thinking and wonder what we can do to inspire them instead?