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So you think you can motivate people!

Some interesting truths about the push and pull of motivation

If I was to ask you – can you motivate people, what would you say?

Most people say yes.


Questioning face 2


The truth is that you can’t actually motivate people. I can now hear the collective intake of breath at a statement that surely isn’t correct.

So what is motivation? In its simplest form it is about two things – push and pull (also called extrinsic and intrinsic motivation).

Extrinsic motivation is when you use external factors to encourage people to do what you want. Extra pay, bonuses, time off and the threat of losing your job are all extrinsic motivators – some positive, some not.

Intrinsic motivation is internal. It's about having a personal drive to do something without being told to do so. Intrinsically motivated people are generally happy doing the job they do.

Every team member is different, and will likely have different motivators. So, it's important to get to know your people, understand what motivates them so that they can be self-motivated. A one size fits all approach doesn’t work – see my other article for more on this – How does your flower bed look?

All effective leaders want their organisations to be filled with people who are motivated. That's why it's vital that you, as a leader, keep tapping into the individual motivators for each person within your team. You can encourage this process by creating an environment that helps them to become more intrinsically motivated.

An example

Fred works for an organisation in the environment and energy industry and has done for over 20 years. He works a set shift pattern from Monday to Friday. He does his job to the standards laid out in his job spec and contract of employment etc. and that’s it. His (fairly new) manager wanted to push Fred a bit more and take him out of his comfort zone (to develop him) so started giving Fred some incentives (extra pay for more work for example). It became apparent fairly quickly that this didn’t work. This had no motivational effect on Fred what so ever. Why? Well clearly he wasn’t driven by money or financial reward.

Fred’s manager had a coaching session with me and as a result decided that he would take a different approach. He went away and got to know Fred much more. In a subtle way over a period of time he got to learn about Fred’s family, his history and his hobbies. It was the final one that gave him the breakthrough – it transpired that Fred was a passionate football coach and that come rain or shine, he would get up early every Saturday to coach an under 11’s football team (who were very successful in their local league). This is powerful to know! Why? Well it tells you several things about Fred.

1. He is self-motivated to get up on his day off to do something and not be paid for it.

2. He loves to make a difference in a team environment.

3. He likes to win.

4. He is very good at organising things (players, game play, fixtures, transport etc.)

5. He is a good communicator to the football team and the parents.

6. He is very good at calming conflict (again with both the team and the parents).

7. He has pride in what he does.

8. He has many traits of great leadership.

As a result of knowing this information Fred’s manager decided to tap into this in order to get Fred to take on more responsibility within the team at work.

He asked Fred for HELP. “Fred, I am struggling with the shift rotas at work and the handover meetings aren’t working. I know that you are really good at this sort of thing with the football team so could you help me with it?”

Fred was happy to help (who doesn’t like being asked for help because they are good at something?) – his skills (and more importantly, his intrinsic motivators) were being asked for. From that point Fred took responsibility for the shift rotas and the format of the handover meetings. What happened? The team shift handovers improved immensely, Fred was did a little extra work (that he hadn’t thought of doing before) because he wanted to.

We make assumptions

Your leadership style is influenced by your beliefs. For example, do you think some people in your team are lazy or dislike working, and need continuous supervision or telling what to do? Or, do you believe that they are happy getting on with their jobs, and are likely to enjoy greater responsibility and freedom (like Fred)?

The way we think affects the way that we act (actions and behaviours). So your beliefs about your team members' motivation affect the way you behave toward them. So, it's important to think carefully about how you view your people, and to explore what truly motivates them (intrinsically).

Personalise your approach

Remember, your team is made up of different individuals who have their own unique cultural norms, current circumstances and past experiences. Consequently, each person may be driven by different motivating factors. When you make an effort to understand each team member, you can help them stay (self) motivated.

Finally, remember the importance of leadership in unlocking motivation in your team and encouraging them to exceed their expectations. This will help you to encourage loyalty, trust and support and therefore a higher performing (and happier) team.

The Seven Secrets To Building High Performance Teams CTA

Remember push and pull. It is easier to pull someone towards something that they are intrinsically motivated to than to push your own ideas of motivation on them.

About the author

Dave Dayman

Dave Dayman

I'm passionate about leadership. I believe that thinking is not only the most powerful tool that we own but is also the one thing we have total control over. Sometimes we just need a little help to change the way we in which we choose to think!