3 Intrinsic Motivations That Get People Going

Motivations From The Larger Picture

External motivations such as rewards or consequences have an affect on us all and can never be discounted. However, more intrinsic, internal ones are taking on added importance, especially with the generation of younger leaders.

I was talking to a missionary couple who had been working in bible translation with a group of people sociologists tagged as the most primitive tribe in Central America. They had been faithfully laboring away for years in a very remote jungle region far away from any semblance of civilization.

I asked him what kept them going. After all, the work had been painfully slow in progress with innumerable setbacks and delays. The material rewards of such an environment were virtually nil... as their primitive housing unit testified. Few people even knew of their work so the social accolades were nonexistent as well. What kept them going?

Their response to the query was that they felt that what they were doing was making a difference in the larger story of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. That their work had purpose and meaning that were derived not from external rewards or consequences but more from the inherent value of doing something that mattered in the larger scheme of things. And this motivation held them fast to their calling and mission and had sustained them through all the highs and lows of their work.

Our challenge, as leaders, is to motivate our people by connecting them with the larger picture…

3 Key Intrinsic Motivations

1. Empowerment - Dan Pink, a career analyst, points out that many today have the motivation to direct their own lives. That is, to be enabled or permitted to bring who they are and what they can do to the issue or project at hand. What social scientists are discovering is that management tends to promote compliance while self-direction or empowerment promotes more engagement.

One example today is the concept called ROWE - results only work environment. Here people don’t have schedules, don't have to be in the office, meetings are optional. They only have to get their work done. How, when, and where they do it is up to them. The assumption is they can handle what is needed to get the job done.

2. Development - this is the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Notice the dual emphasis. Getting better, and something that matters.

With the history of downturns in the economy, many younger leaders today are not taking for granted that jobs will be available for them at their current skill level. There’s a prevailing sense of needing to increase their marketability by developing who they are and what they can do.

They want to make a contribution, but they want more than merely making a contribution. They want the experience and responsibility to help them grow and develop as well.

3. Purpose - the desire to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. We are motivated when we see that what we do makes a difference in the larger scheme of things. Look at the myriad number of causes the younger generation is giving time to these days. You see the motivation of deriving purpose by connecting to the larger story. For those motivated by purpose, it’s more than just a paycheck.

2 Incorrect assumptions leaders make in the area of motivation:

  • First, that what motivates them motivates others as well. We humans are complex creatures. No two are alike. And our own motivations change all the time within us.

  • The second is to assume that motivation is a private affair and exceeds the parameters of leadership. After all, the company hired them, spent money on training them, and pays them handsomely. Shouldn’t that be incentive enough? Those are important but insufficient. Whether extrinsically or intrinsically derived, motivation is key to high performance and cannot merely be assumed.

What are you assuming about what really motivates those you lead? Is that assumption causing you to miss bringing out their best?

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