Leadership and Motivation: How Are You Motivated

Still working through thoughts on leadership and motivation.   As you think about motivation what comes to your mind? What does motivation look like?  Does motivation look different to you in your role as a parent, a student, an employee, a leader, a coach, a son/daughter, a brother/sister? Does motivation mean different things to you when discussing personal motivation versus motivation of someone you lead or mentor?  Does it mean different things to you when you compare your work life to your home life?

Simply put motivation is defined as:

The psychological feature that arouses an organism to action toward a desired goal; the reason for the action; that which gives purpose and direction to behavior. – Wordnet.com developed by Princeton University.

There are several key words in this definition: “arouses”, “action”, “reason”, “gives purpose”, “direction”. Motivation has a number of different facets to it.  Motivation can be extrinsic (from the outside), intrinsic (from within), it can originate from fear or from reward.  Motivation can arise out of a need for self preservation or from a need for gratification.  Yes motivation takes on a number of different forms and can potentially come from many different places.

First we need to understand that external motivation is less effective and lasting that internal motivation.  As I mentioned in the last post, in the book Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-motivation author Edward L. Deci discusses in great detail and length the misconception that external motivation can be effective.  The primary issue with external motivation is that it assumes that the person being “motivated” has the same goal in mind as the person doing the motivating.  This means that if I am trying to motivate a person that works for me I assume my goals are their goals. However, this may or may not be the case in every instance.

So how are you motivated?  Do you look for motivation externally? Do you rely on your own internal drive to motivate yourself to your goals?  So many questions…  In the end motivation can truly only come from a single source and that is your own desire to achieve an outcome.  External incentives might have an ability to motivate you for a short time, but if you are not committed to the goal before reward or punishment is established your ability to achieve the goal is significantly impacted.

We have all been in positions or jobs where we were not there for anything other than the money.  We all had jobs as kids or young adults where we were just trying to make a little spending money because we needed gas for the car for our Friday nights and to afford to get into the movies. That was our goal and we really weren’t overly concerned about the bigger goals of the organization. In the end none of us stayed in these jobs because they did not fulfill the other needs we have.  Abraham Maslow (an American psychologist) calls these needs the Hierarchy of Needs (see the image below).  At the base of this hierarchy are our physical and psychological needs, e.g. a roof over our heads, food, water, etc.  Once we are successful in fulfilling these basic needs we move beyond them and thus just making some spending money is no longer enough, we are now motivated by different needs.

So if someone is trying to motivate you externally (boss, parent, teacher, coach, etc.) and they are trying to motivate you in the area of achievement or responsibility, but you are still worried about how to pay the rent and provide food for your family what are the chances that anything they do to motivate you will be successful? If you are the motivator in that situation are you successful? External motivation like rewards, encouragement, punishment, guilt, etc. only work for as long as they apply to the needs in your life and what you are trying to achieve.  Then they lose their power to motivate.

In the end the only successful long-term way to be motivated is to find an internal “reason” that will “give purpose” and “direction” for your own “actions” in achievement of a “desired goal”.  This means as a leader you have to determine what the “desired goal” is and the “reason”.  Only then can you try to align their goal with your goals and help give them “direction” and “purpose”.

So where are you getting your motivation from? If you are responsible for motivating someone else do you understand what their “desired goal” is and does it align with what you are trying to motivate them to do?  As a leader it would be almost impossible for you to lead if everyone wasn’t on the same page as to what the goal was.  In his book A Higher Duty: Desertion among Georgia Troops during the Civil War author Mark A. Weitz demonstrated that desertion in the confederate army was primarily due to two factors 1) the conditions were horrible (thus not meeting the soldier’s basic Hierarchy of Needs) and 2) Confederate soldiers fought to defend their families, not a nation (different goals).

So before you try to lead and apply motivation to those you lead you might want to ask them what their needs and goals are.  Leadership without this understanding is going to be short lived and unsuccessful.

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