A problem with motivation

My youngest daughter (8) is learning to play the saxophone. I’m very jealous, I’d love to be able to play the saxophone. It sounds like so much more fun than management meetings and PowerPoint. Yet no matter what I do, she doesn’t practice. And because she doesn’t practice she will never really be any good. So I have taken down my management manual to see what it recommends.

The golden bullet

The book talks a lot about empowerment. It is a wonder drug that will help your staff do great things. If you have an empowered workforce you will have a great business. Or so the theory goes. So I have decided to empower my daughter.


/ɪmˈpaʊər/ verb

To give somebody the authority to do something
I empowered my agent to finalise the deal

Empowerment is all about power and control. If you empower people you give them the leeway to make their own decisions within the framework you have delegated.

Empowerment is a nice idea, in a controlling sort of way.

I have told my daughter she is empowered to play the saxophone. I’d like to tell you it worked. But it didn’t.

I need to try something else.


/ɪˈneɪ.bəl/ verb

To give somebody the means to do something
The tools will enable him to do the job

Enablement is more useful than empowerment. It is one thing to tell somebody they can do something, it is another thing altogether to give them the wherewithal to do it.

I have enabled my daughter to play the saxophone by buying her a saxophone (at great cost) and paying for lessons (at greater cost). I’d like to tell you it worked. But it didn’t.

I need to try something else.


/ɪnˈspaɪər/ verb

To make somebody feel that they want to do something and can do it
His confident leadership inspired his followers

Inspiration trumps enablement. You can give your staff all the tools in the box, but that doesn’t mean that they will use them. But if you inspire them, well that is a different conversation. Unfortunately inspiration is hard. Let’s have a show of hands, how many of you are truly inspired by your job?

My next step is to inspire my daughter. I’ve been surfing YouTube looking for role models.

Is empowerment the best you can do?

Which would you rather have, an empowered workforce or one that is enabled and inspired?

My daughter quite liked the video I found.  She said she thought it was “good”.  Maybe I should buy tickets to a concert.  I will let you know if it works, just don’t hold your breath.

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Image by Nicolas Marincic


  1. If you take her to a Maroon 5 concert, I’m sure she’ll be your biggest fan forever and do whatever you tell her to do!

    Great distinction between empowering and inspiring. I suppose the answer to your last question would be: all three… an empowered, enabled, and inspired workforce.


  2. James, have you really dug into why she wants to learn the saxophone? Is it intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?

  3. I think she was originally extrinsically motivated by a big brass thing she could blow into…

    The only positive thing about the whole experience is she originally wanted a harp. Can you imagine lugging that to school every Tuesday and Thursday?

    Or maybe my reaction just demonstrates how poor a parent I am

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