A common goal of leaders is to motivate their team/members in achieving organization goals and objectives. Some leaders may already be clear on how to do this, while others are clueless. One helpful way to approach this challenge about motivating others is to reflect on what motivates you and what you can learn from the reflection. So, what motivates you?
As you journeyed through the stages of life, you realize that motivations, or the “things” (a.k.a., “motivators”) that drive you to say, do, and pursue something, can evolve and change. When you were a child, perhaps eating your favorite ice cream motivated you to complete a task a parent asked, for example, picking up and and keeping your toys in their place. When you were a teen, perhaps going out with friends and enjoying a movie together motivated you to first complete your assignments so that you had no pending school work to finish before going out. Before, and maybe more so after graduating from college, you were motivated to look for an interesting job and spent more time job hunting, applying, doing interviews, until finally you narrowed down some choices you really liked. As you progressed in your career, you may have been motivated by faster promotions with significant salary increases. For every life milestone, and each day, we experience motivators that drive us closer to something we want and sometimes away from things we wish to avoid. The bottom line is that motivation is not a mysterious and unfathomable black box.
Take note that what motivates you are not necessarily what motivates your team/members. A common mistaken assumption is that others are motivated by the same values, aspirations, goals and things that motivated you. One manager kept giving pep talks about career development and promotion opportunities to one team member because she herself had been motivated by these. She was at a loss as to why her team member was not responsive, lacked motivation at work, and kept letting his assigned tasks fall behind. Apparently, her team member valued other aspirations more, like supporting his demanding girlfriend. He was strongly compelled to be present for her and cater to her whims while letting his own work responsibilities slip.
To be able to motivate another, one must know what drives that individual. A leader must get to know their team members as more than employees who show up for work to get a job done. An employee is not just a worker but a whole person who has different needs and wants. Get to know the person though one-on-ones where you invest time and effort to explore and understand the following:
- What are the three most important values of the individual? Values drive us whether we are aware of it or not.
- What her/his aspirations and what specific outcomes do they want to achieve in life/career? What compelled the person to want these?
- Given aspirations that may be more long term, what are the specific milestones/goals that s/he has set, if any? Some may have dreams and aspirations, but miss having a realistic plan to get there.
- What needs and wants influence their choices and actions? How are these intertwined with their work and career? How strong is the link between needs and wants and their work and career?
- What intrinsic motivators drive the person? E.g., love of learning, identifies with the job and the company, enjoys the work much more than other activities like going out with friends, etc.
- What extrinsic motivators does s/he value? E.g., public recognition, merit increase, performance bonus, sponsorship to an MBA, etc.
- What are the talents/strengths of the person? What are the developmental areas for the current job role and next step in the career ladder?
- Is there a strong fit between the person, the job and the career path in the organization?
- What makes the person unique and different from you and others? What really matters to them?
If there is a strong fit and alignment between the person and what the organization provides, knowing and understanding each team member as the unique individual can help a leader be more successful in motivating them within the context of their job role, work, and career opportunities. If there is not a strong fit and alignment, such understanding can prepare the leader to help the person explore where there may be a stronger fit and support the person to move on.
Forcing a fit when there is none or a poor one will not work out in the long term. The sooner the leader and person concerned becomes aware of this, accepts it, and opens a different path, the better for the person, the leader and the organization.