You walk into class and take your seat in a large lecture hall. It’s only the second week of law school and your senses remain on heightened alert. You’ve been warned about this particular class. The professor is known as tough. He sees his role as weeding out the students who are smart but cannot make it in the courtroom. Fail his class and you’re out.
Perhaps even more importantly, he runs the class like a courtroom. He will question you as if you were an attorney fighting for your client’s life. You watched what he did to one student in the last class, reducing the student to an emotional mess.
You’re determined not to show weakness. You’ve prepared and studied like never before.
Whether you want to motivate yourself or others, there are motivators at the core of every action. Knowing what is driving you and others is critically important.
Recently, I saw Greg McEvilly’s talk on motivation. Greg suggests that fear and love are the twin drivers of most actions. Greg is the CEO of KAMMOK, a company that sells outdoor equipment specializing in hammocks. In graduate school, he began to ask questions about motivation and behavior. Why is it that people behave the way they do? Even more important, Greg studied his own actions and thought about the definition of the words love and fear.
If you do, you will tap into a leadership success shortcut that will help you create an organization that performs above expectations.
Susan Fowler is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies and a professor at the University of San Diego. Her research into the science of motivation is important for all leaders to understand and employ. I recently asked her about her work.
Research: managers do not know what motivates their people.
You’re an expert on motivation. You say that everyone is motivated, but everyone is motivated differently. Would you share an example of this from your experience?
An important truth emerges when we explore the nature of motivation. People are always motivated. The question is not if, but why they are motivated.
The motivation—or energy and impetus—a person brings to any action can be qualitatively different. Some reasons people are motivated tend to promote well-being for themselves and others—and unfortunately, some reasons don’t.
Motivation that comes from choosing to do something is different from motivation that comes from having to do it.
Motivation generated from values, purpose, love, joy, or compassion is different from motivation generated from ego, power, status, or a desire for external rewards.
Motivation to compete because of a desire to excel (where the score serves as feedback on how successfully you are growing, learning, and executing) is different from competing for the sake of besting someone else, to impress, or gain favors.
One of the primary reasons motivating people doesn’t work is our naïve assumption that motivation is something a person has or doesn’t have. This leads to the erroneous conclusion that the more motivation a person has, the more likely she will achieve her goals and be successful. When it comes to motivation, it is too simplistic and even unwise to assume that more is better. As with friends, it isn’t how many friends you have, it is the quality and types of friendships that matter.
Imagine you are a sales manager. You wonder if your sales reps are motivated. You look at the mid-quarter sales reports for your two highest selling reps and conclude, yes, they are both highly motivated. What you might fail to notice is that they are motivated differently. The reason one rep works hard is to win the sales contest, be seen as number one, and to make the promised bonus. The reason the other rep works hard is because he values your products and services, his efforts are connected to a noble purpose, and he enjoys problem solving with his clients. The science of motivation provides compelling evidence that there are major implications for the reps’ different types of motivation. The quality of their energy affects short-term results and long-term stamina.
“A great irony of leadership is that motivating your people doesn’t work because people are already motivated.” -Susan Fowler
Managers can guide people through a conversation that helps individuals explore their feelings related to their task, goal, or situation and reveals their current motivational outlook.
Do they have a negative or positive sense of well-being? Listen to clues in their language; watch their non-verbal body language. (Do they use phrases such as, I have to or I get to? Do they appear defeated, defiant, and defensive or inspired and joyful?)
Is the individual experiencing low or high quality of psychological needs? (Does this person feel in control and recognize they have choices, feel supported and have a sense of purpose regarding the situation, and feel they have the ability to navigate the challenges posed by the situation?)
Is the individual demonstrating low- or high-quality self-regulation? (Is this person mindful, making a values-based decision, or linking the situation to a higher purpose?)
Is the individual’s motivational outlook suboptimal (disinterested, external, or imposed) or optimal (aligned, integrated, or inherent)?
Leadership Tip: Help your people find meaning and contribute to a social purpose.
People seem to be motivated by one of two forces. Either toward or against.
Both can be equally powerful motivators, but one seems to last.
Why are you in motion?
When I interview people for a job, I often ask questions about how the individual made career decisions. Some job changes were motivated by moving AWAY from something—a bad boss, a negative work environment, low pay. Other people make a change to move TOWARD something—a new opportunity, the ability to make a bigger impact, a better use of talent.
Though it’s not scientific validation, I’ve found that the people moving TOWARD the new opportunity are more successful, happier, and continue on an upward career path. These people are energized by the future, by what’s to come, by what’s possible.
Contrast that with the people moving AWAY from a job. It seems that the very same things that they didn’t like about the one job magically seemed to follow them to the next!