Rethinking Motivation

iStock 000020424323XSmallMost people believe motivation is a process by which one person instills energy into another. This is why so many believe we need motivational speakers, inspiring communication strategies, and energetic leaders to drive achievement and results.


While there is nothing inherently wrong with calling ourselves a motivator, the fact is that effective leaders do something more important and influential.


It’s time to rethink motivation. The research is clear. If we cut through the motivation madness we understand that motivation is not about instilling energy or driving it into another person. It’s not about some kind of secret sauce that, when applied, instantly engages an employee in an activity, goal, or mission. It is simply enabling a person to awaken what he/she already has inside. There are 3 specific ways we can begin to rethink motivation as leaders.


3 Ways to Rethink Motivation


1. Think Internal More Than External – All motivation is derived internally. You cannot make someone motivated. You can only activate what is already present. Environment is important to enable motivation, but internal motives elicit energy to act and are more powerful than the external environment. We have all experienced a time when our environment didn’t support our motivation to do something, yet we broke through that environment to achieve and succeed.  The environment can certainly hinder our internal drive, but internal drives are, in most cases, more powerful than the external environment.


2. Think Customized, Not One Size Fits All – Every person has different levels and combinations of natural desires and motivators. The research of Dr. Steven Reiss of Ohio State University reveals 16 basic desires that drive our natural intrinsic motivation. Each person has different intensity levels for these desires, thus making each person unique in what motivates us. To activate a person’s natural motivation, we must help the person progress towards fulfilling their unique desires. The cookie cutter approach doesn’t apply to unleashing people’s drive and energy.


3.  Think Growth Process, Not Instant – Because our motivation is internal and unique, we have to seek to understand ourselves before we can optimize our personal motivation. Likewise, we have to help others understand their unique desires so they can effectively motivate themselves. This process is not simple, nor is it quick. It takes a process of learning, deeper self-understanding, and personal growth. Likewise, as a leader it will take time and intentional action to understand what it takes to enable the motivation of each person you lead.

7 thoughts on “Rethinking Motivation”

  1. I think you are probably one of the only coaches who takes the time to personalize an individual motivation plan. I have also noticed that the cookie cutter approach is simply not working. It may work for a while, but like Mike said, sooner or later these one size fits all concepts seem to lose power over time, because they are not striking a chord with our personal issues. In the end, the affirmations get old, and the motivation slows down again. It makes so much more sense to ask each person to really think about what drives them, and what doesn’t before moving forward with a plan. Great work!

  2. yeah, growth is a process, and it can’t happen overnight. I like your down to earth style of thinking. Unlike most of the motivation coaches out there, who focus more on feel good aspects of growth, you ask us to look at the practical and long term side of it.

    I really appreciate it.

  3. I completely agree. You simply can’t motivate someone else, because it has to be a choice that they are willing to make internally. I like the image you used for this article. It reminds me of the idea that insanity is the act of repeating the same actions over and over expecting the same results. Since our thoughts are at the base of our actions, it makes sense that changing our thoughts is an important part of changing our level of motivation.

    • So many people look for the “secret recipe” for motivating others and forget that motivation only occurs when we support the energy that is already within the person.

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