Inspiration for Action!

As leaders, how can we inspire the self and others for action, creating results that last? This is perhaps, the ultimate question!

‘We initiate great projects, we are motivated to change things, we start our work…then what?’ This question was raised by a very motivated Middle Level Manager working in the hospitality industry here in Ethiopia. Her concern and inquiry motivated us facilitators to design a session on motivation and inspiration. Indeed, this is a topic of concern, not just for managers, but for all holders of a vision, who wish to inspire action and do great work on the ground.

Motivation and Beyond

How does one motivate a child to do homework? Or a teenager to clean up at home? Or a team mate to deliver on time? Or how would we motivate Barack Obama, if we were in his presence? We would probably be aware that each person we wish to motivate has different aspirations and needs, and the starting point is to understand their needs and speak to how their needs can be met. We may offer external motivations, such a gift for a child, organizing a party for a teenager or raising a salary for an employee. In this blog, however, inspired by the writing of Ravi Pradhan, and work with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), we will look at a key leadership competency – inspiring motivation from within – and we will call it ‘enrollment’.

Enrollment: Inspiration for Action

Enrollment in this context is distinct from the act of recruiting someone for a course or a programme. In this case, we define enrollment as:

‘having someone recognize or create a new possibility for themselves

and having them commit to actualizing that possibility’

Unlike a typical sales or recruitment conversation, enrollment is an intimate, honest and straightforward conversation between human beings. As Ravi Pradhan explains, it requires that we shift from seeing people as objects or instruments to be manipulated for our own purpose, agenda or project. Pradhan adds: ‘enrollment is not about fulfilling a need; rather it is about creating or bringing forth a possibility for oneself.’ Indeed, when we view people as participant in something we can create together, enrollment is an authentic and powerful conversation to forward their vision (not just ours).  It also requires that, instead of settling for compliance we focus on genuine commitment.

In short therefore, we can define ‘enrollment’ as the art of generating partners in realizing a vision.

What makes Enrollment distinct from Sales?

If I remember the times in which I had the target to sell a product, and felt under pressure to do so, I would almost impose myself on the person I would sell to, try to get my way, and argue my way around why that product I was selling was the ‘right’ one for the buyer. I would also wish to have the other say ‘yes’ to my request. In some cases, this would put the other in an uncomfortable position, and the pressure I would put them in would actually weaken our relationship.

The above does not happen in Enrollment. Enrollment, rather, feels more like creating something together, serving the needs and aspirations of both people in the dialogue, and exploring what is possible. In enrollment, the speaker is committed to the choice of the other: they are free to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, without feeling the pressure.

If true Enrollment has happened, the result of the enrollment conversation is a strengthening of relationships.

Key Elements in an Enrollment Conversation

How is it that the work of Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King is continuing even after they are gone? What was it about their vision and their speaking that evoked something so powerful in thousands/ millions of people, so that their work continues today? How is it that pioneers such as Professor Prof. Wangari Maathai in Kenya, or Dr. Jember Teferra in Ethiopia, have inspired to become partners in generating sustainable change?

What many of such inspiring pioneers have are certain elements to enroll in common. These include:

Authenticity: being genuine and not trying to secretly manipulate the other;

Being Relational: in enrollment, appreciative listening for the concerns and commitment and other are important, thus creating a relationship of the speaker to the other, and to the topic in question. Enrollment involves inviting a dialogue, not a monologue.

Offering an Invitation: this involves creating an opening for genuine dialogue and participation. The person being enrolled should feel free to decline without fear of being ‘punished’ about it.

Being Present: ‘presence’ is a way of being welcoming, warm, respectful, spontaneous, and not being rigidly attached to outcomes.

Inspiration: great enrollers are able to make an emotional connection with others, and inspire and move them into seeing new possibilities. ‘Inspiration’ comes from a Latin root: ‘ispirare’, which means ‘breathing life into.’

To inspire others, one requires a deep conviction of what we want to see. As Chief Seattle of the Suquamish Indians of Washington State once said:

“When you know who you are; when your mission is clear

and you burn with the inner fire of unbreakable will;

no cold can touch your heart;

no deluge can dampen your purpose.”

Feasibility Outcome: enrollment involves also communicating clearly the cost/ benefit of participating in the possibility, in some way.

At the end of the day, enrollment is an art to be mastered, and it requires a stand. It is not about one’s position, which creates opposition; it is not about convincing or manipulating others. It is about being authentic, inspired, a deep listener, bold, vulnerable and open

One does not need to be Dr Martin Luther King, or a positional leader, to be able to inspire and enroll others.

Levels of Engagement/ Enrollment in a Vision

I assume we have all come across situations in which we have not inspired the other at all. In the listener, we observe apathy, no interest and no energy.

Or, as a step up from apathy, we encounter a level of Enrollment which is of non-compliance/ non acceptance: the other is against our vision/ idea and won’t participate. A higher level of engagement from non-acceptance is ‘grudging compliance’: the other does not see the benefits of the vision, is not really on board, but goes along so as not to lose job.

Glimmers of hope come when in enrollment there is formal acceptance, that is, when the other sees the benefit of our initiative, and is ready to do what is expected. However, this is not sustainable because the partner does no more than what is expected.

The energy shifts positively when we receive ‘authentic/ genuine acceptance’, when the potential partner really believes in the vision, and will do everything expected and more within the “letter of the law.”

Change and sustainability comes when we find Junior Partners for a vision we have in common. Such a partner is committed and wants to realize the vision. This partner works with you, but still sees the vision as the enroller’s.

Sustainability and great work comes when we find Full Partners for our vision and projects. Full partners will make things happen, no matter what. They will do whatever it takes to realize the vision, even independent of us as enrollers. In this case, there is one more enroller holding the vision, inspiring other people to do the same.

I assume that when speaking with the managers of the local hotel I was working with, they were seeking to find senior partners for their work.


The invitation here is for you to think of a project you are working on, in which you require great partners to move things forward. After having done so:

. Identify your commitment in this project

. Think of your potential partner: what are their burning issues and commitments?

. Prepare yourself to share what you wish to share in an inspiring manner. What opportunity would they wish to see? What’s in it for them? How can they know that you are counting on them?

. When you enroll, make a bold and audacious request for action. What is the specific contribution you are requiring from them?

You could even practice what you plan to say and seek feedback from trusted friends and colleagues. Ultimately, the result of the enrollment conversation will be that even the potential partner will feel empowered by the compelling vision they share with you.

I invite you to share your experiences on this if you are moved to.

Note: many thanks for all those who have taught me the powerful distinction of ‘Enrollment’: Ravi Pradhan, Joseph Friedman, Dr. Monica Sharma, Allan Henderson, and all my colleagues at UNDP’s Leadership Development Programme.