Five ways to become an inspirational manager

by Contributor23 Apr 2019

We have known for a long time that having engaged team members is better than having people who are simply satisfied. Engaged employees are 44% more productive – that’s like adding a part-time person to your team at no additional cost. 

According to Bain & Company, however, it looks like engagement is too low a bar. It turns out that inspired employees are 125% more productive than satisfied ones. That’s like adding more than one full-time person to your team. 

Why is inspiration so powerful? 
When we are inspired, we are releasing serotonin and dopamine, two of the most critical neurochemicals. They are deeply connected to our well-being and energy. 

Serotonin makes us feel significant and important, while dopamine motivates us to act to achieve goals and gain a sense of progress. They are the fuel behind the fire that boosts productivity by an incredible amount. 

My grandfather, JE Slater, intuitively understood the power of inspiration. His advice to us growing up was to “always keep exhilaration in front of exhaustion.” I can remember very few moments with him where he wasn’t in a state of inspiration. He was always full of joy, wonder, momentum and energy. 

Like my grandfather, I am nearly always exhilarated at work. I wasn’t always that way – it was something I had to learn and develop. I have been researching and experimenting with it for over 20 years. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to help people be inspired: 

1. Define a shared purpose 
While we gain meaning from the journey, what inspires us is usually the dopamine-producing pleasure of seeing ourselves make progress toward a goal. While the destination may be far away, if we believe in it and want it, we can be exhilarated by making measurable progress toward it. 

2. See the superhero in people 
My friend Tara Russell is an inspiring manager. When I see her working with her team, you can feel the energy and exhilaration. She takes the time to see the potential in people and to help them see it.  

When you’re around someone who sees you for who you are and who you can become, it is inspiring. It gives you a sense of significance, which produces serotonin, but also gives you a sense of hope and anticipation for the future (our friend dopamine again). 

3. Let people grow and fail 
It’s a cliché at this point, but it’s an important one: Give people permission to fail. This isn’t just to drive innovation, but also the experience of taking risks, which is thrilling and inspiring. When you ask people about the manager who most consistently inspired them, they almost always point to the one who believed in them enough to push them out of their comfort zone. 

4. Cultivate curiosity 
Most of my inspiration comes from being curious. It isn’t doing anything or making any impact. It is self-generated and is 100% in my head. I just love asking “What if?” all the time. 

I read for at least an hour every day and am always looking to uncover new research and then spend days playing with possible implications and applications. I learn about business models and wonder what it would look like to superimpose that model on a totally different business in a different industry. What if what we assume is true isn’t? 

As managers, we can encourage building habits that provoke curiosity. The trick is to find out what triggers curiosity for each person. It is usually ultimately tied to the person’s psychological purpose drivers. 

5. Celebrate inspiration 
In my book, The Purpose Economy, I share the nightly practice that Jennifer McCrae has built with her family. At dinner, rather than ask her kids what they learned at school, she asks them to share one thing that moved or inspired them.  

I have adopted this practice in my office during our team meetings. It helps us to see the abundance of sources for inspiration all around us if we are just open to it. 


Aaron Hurst is the foremost expert on the science of purpose at work. In 2014, he brought global awareness to the rise of the fourth economic era in history, the purpose economy. He is the author of The Purpose Economy: How Your Desire for Impact, Personal Growth and Community Is Changing the World and the co-founder and CEO of Imperative, the technology platform for leaders in the new economy. For more information, visit