The best way to inspire others is to be inspired. The best way to motivate is to be motivated.

How do you motivate and inspire?  How do you create an environment where people are eager or excited about their daily work?

This question has created a multi-million dollar industry of motivational speakers, consultants, and higher education learning curriculum.  I have to admit that I’ve been an avid pupil of the movement, focusing on others when the answer is literally staring me in the face each morning while brushing my teeth.  It’s amazing sometimes how we fail to see the forest due to the trees.  Sometimes a person needs to step back and adjust his or her vantage for a clearer picture.  The best way to inspire others is to be inspired. The best way to motivate is to be motivated.

I recently read a short story that has been retold multiple times in various books and magazine articles.  The original author is unknown, but the moral of the story is as enlightening as ever.

Hundreds of years ago, in a city I picture somewhere on an Italian hillside, there was a massive cathedral being build.  These colossal pieces of art, designed as a place of worship often took many years to build.  In fact, the architect or original builders often never saw the completion.  There was a man who noted an artisan chipping away at a large piece of stone.

He asked, “What are you building?”  The man replied, “I’m creating a statue.”  The gentleman encountered another worker and asked, “What are you doing?”  The worker quickly replied, “ I’m working hard to earn an income in order to provide for my family.”  The man encountered a third worker asking again about his current activity.  The worker energetically replied, “I’m building a beautiful cathedral.”

The workers’ replies were very appropriate, sounding much like what may be heard in modern day offices, hospitals, or construction sites.  All were correct and appropriate in context.  As with the first worker, we all have our own dedicated tasks that are vital for the institution as a whole.  Much like the second artisan, we are all working in order to provide for our families and loved ones.

The key lies in the third worker’s response.

I envision a large smile on his face and passion in his voice when he responded, “I’m building a beautiful cathedral.”  Like the others, I assume he had his own assigned project.  Like all of us, he had bills to pay and mouths to feed.  What was different with this guy?  He saw the big picture and was passionate.  I would most certainly assume that he inspired others.  How did he inspire?  He was inspired.

In health care, we are very fortunate to be part of an industry that focuses on saving lives, treating the wounded and advocating for the lost.  Our end game is not corporate growth, sales agenda, or market trends.  Our primary focus is healing and preserving the life of a person in need.  Our central theme is patient care.  Whether you’re transporting a patient to CT, or preparing the evening food tray, patient care is the common underlying thread.  Bed linens become more important and vital signs more vital when you change your perspective, looking at the forest instead of the trees, seeing the patient instead of the task.

How do we inspire and motivate our co-workers?  How do we improve health care?  Like the third cathedral artisan, we become inspired by seeing the big picture and understand the difference we are making in patient care.

Jeffrey McWilliams is an emergency physician who blogs at Advocates Of Excellence.

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