What motivates people?

That is the question we are addressing in the class I started last week. It also is the question that has vexed leaders for all of recorded history. We all know what it feels like to be motivated and we all know what a motivated team can accomplish. But, how can we, as leaders, develop motivation in other people?

As I listen to conversations at work it appears that many leaders believe motivation is out of their direct control.  We assume that some people are just motivated and others are not, or that organizational pay systems and contracts are responsible for how motivated our people are. Others focus on the job mobility in their organizations or the most recent publicity, good or bad, as the driver of motivation. I have to admit that many of the headlines in the news encourage this type of thinking.

Yet, there is hope for us as leaders. Daniel Pink, author of Drive, describes in this Tedtalk  http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html, how many of our assumptions are wrong and gives us some straight-forward ideas on motivation. Leaders that encourage a sense of autonomy, provide an opportunity to develop mastery, and highlight the purpose of the work greatly enhance the motivation of the people they lead. These actions are all within our control as leaders! Even better, it appears that small consistent actions have a definite impact on motivation. We do not need to take on imposing initiatives but can focus on the day-to-day interactions we have with the people on our teams.

I had a chance to see this recently. As I was preparing for a large training program, many unexpected challenges popped up. This required extra work for one member of my team and potentially could have been de-motivating. As we worked together I made sure that I highlighted how her work was directly related to the success of the overall program, I forwarded several emails from participants that described how helpful the program was for them and I passed along updates of how well the program was going after it kicked off. Later she shared how much she appreciated that. I believe it was because it demonstrated the meaningfulness of her extra work.

What small actions can you take to fuel the motivation of the people you lead?

Todd Thorsgaard


2 responses to “What motivates people?

  1. I like this post, as I’d agree when we can find purpose in our work – something that allows us to contribute to something greater, we (I!) feel more motivated. The roles of managers today is to find out what matters for their employees, and do what they can to provide more of that. I look forward to future posts, thanks Todd.


    • Todd Thorsgaard

      Jeff, Thanks for your comment and insight. Purpose and meaning at work are so important and as leaders we often have the ability to highlight the role each of our team members have in making a difference.


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