You may have heard of the three motivation drives of the brain. They are 1) Survival, 2) Reward, 3) Purpose drive. What most people don’t know is that each of these drives is rooted in different parts of your brain anatomy. It’s this finding that provides a really important insight into how we support the motivation and engagement of the people we lead. 

Neuroscience studies have confirmed that the brain has three distinct areas for which each drive is derived. The most primitive part of the brain is the stem and cerebellum. This area is referred to as the Reptilian Brain, and it is responsible for both automatic and basic organ function like your heartbeat, breathing, digestion, and other fundamental activities that keep you alive. It is also responsible for helping your body manage dangerous situations and threats. In essence, it is mission control for your Survival Drive.

The subcortical area is known as the Mammalian Brain and is the next layer above and around the stem and cerebellum. It is responsible for feelings, memories, emotions, and learning. This area seeks to find balance and satisfaction through reward and pleasure. Each reward or feeling of pleasure reinforces neuron connections and leads to more of the same behavior. The mammalian part of your brain guides you to respond to reward and punishment. It prompts you to act in ways that result in pleasurable feelings and avoid actions that result in pain. This part of the brain is the command center for the Reward Drive.

The third and final major part of the brain is the Cortex. It is the outer portion and it is known as the Human Brain since it is responsible for higher-functioning processes found only in humans and primates. These processing abilities include problem-solving, the pursuit of goals, reasoning, complex language, relationship management, creativity, and self-regulation. This is where we find the Purpose Drive, which seeks meaning and a sense of significance in our lives.

Here’s the important insight of this brain science finding: Leadership approaches that rely on survival and reward are relying on the most basic human brain functions that are in many ways automatic and non-thinking and doesn’t utilize the most developed and “human” part of the brain.

But leading in a way that leverages purpose has the ability to tap into the most powerful part of the brain. This is exactly what Activators do. They use leadership methods and tactics that help people find passion and purpose in their work. In doing so, they help people use more of their brain to pursue goals and values that are meaningful to them and create healthy, high-quality energy and motivation.