What's Your Perspective on Motivation? -- Motivation, Part 5

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I want to challenge your perspective on motivation. Perspectives are powerful. Our perspectives color everything we see, think, and experience. They decide whether we focus on the path toward winning or the roadblocks in our way. They determine whether we see failures or lessons well-learned. They dictate whether we live in hopefulness or fear. Given the power that perspectives hold, it is important that leaders be conscious of their perspectives when it comes to the issue of motivation.

Throughout this series on motivation, there has been a subtle but consistent perspective baked into each blog posting. That perspective is this: Motivation is not something to be created within followers; it is something to be discovered and tapped into. Motivation is something for leaders to unleash.

Saying No to the Past

Traditional leadership perspectives say that it is the leader’s job to create motivation within those they lead. Such beliefs inherently communicate that motivation does not already exist—or at least not enough of it—within our followers. But what if we said no to that traditional perspective?

What if we led by assuming that life’s most valuable and biggest motivators already live within each follower? How would it change our behavior, discussions, and actions if we were leaders who intentionally and consistently searched for the drivers of action and emotion that already exist within those we lead? How would our leadership be different if we believed that a key role of leadership was not to plant motivation inside others but to discover it and provide a pathway on which it can run?

For me, the difference between believing I must create motivation rather than discover and tap into it is significant. The former allows me to be cynical when I hit motivational speed bumps. It allows me attribute my failure to motivate others to their inability or unwillingness to be motivated. But the latter perspective puts the onus on me. It requires me to take responsibility for thoroughly investigating what drives those I’m leading. If they end up unmotivated, it’s because I haven’t looked hard enough to find what mattered to them.

None of this is to suggest that everyone we lead has an equal amount of internal, inherent motivation. Anyone who has led for more than six minutes can attest to the fact that followers have varying levels of internal motivation. Like so much in leadership, however, the issue at hand is about maximizing what’s possible with what we have. So even if your workforce has a lower-than-average level of internal motivation, the goal of maximizing the motivation that does exist within them remains the same.

We all have things that motivate us from within. Some motivators, such as encouragement and ownership, are universal to the human race. Other motivators, such as those associated with various scientifically studied personality styles (MBTI, DiSC, Enniagram, etc), are shared by segmented portions of the population. Still others are deeply unique to each individual. We must be willing to explore all types of internal motivation if we are to fully unlock the potential within our followers.

The Payoff of Switching Your Perspective

Like a ball at the top of a hill, our followers initially exist as potential energy. As we intentionally search for what motivates them, it is as if we are inching the ball closer and closer to the edge of the hill. When we discover what motivates those we lead, it's like pushing the ball over the edge. In that moment, just as the ball rolls down the hill fueled by its own increasing momentum, our followers move forward with greater and greater energy. Both the ball and our followers are having the same experience-- their potential energy is being converted into action.

Let’s be leaders with the perspective that motivation inherently lives within those we lead. Let’s use that perspective to diligently search for what motivates each of our followers. And when we make those discoveries, let’s provide those we lead with pathways on which to convert their potential into action and results.

Share Your Thoughts: What’s been your perspective on motivation in the past? Have you ever followed a leader who sought to unleash the motivation that lived within each of his/her followers as opposed to trying create it within them?  We'd love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.

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