Fear-tactics, motivation, or inspiration? Which suits you best? Which gets you most excited about delivering business results and meeting your work or career goals? As a business leader, which do you leverage most frequently to move your teams and organizations towards your desired results? These concepts have always intrigued me and I can say with confidence I’ve experienced all three throughout my career. At one time a leader charged with ensuring the deliverables of multiple organizations were met, it became increasingly important for me to understand these tools and when to leverage them…or not. But which really is more effective? Does it matter? Are they really just tools in a box to be pulled out on a case-by-case basis? Now, before you go making those lovely assumptions about where I’ll conclude, take a moment. Sit back and relax. You may be surprised.
Before I jump into analyzing each, let me take a moment to introduce the concept of self-motivation. That’s the energy that drives us from within. I hope you agree that from individual to individual there are varying degrees of inherit self-motivation. The dream team, what we strive for, is every person fully self-motivated to the point they are exceeding expectations, delivering ahead of schedule, then asking for more with little guidance or push from you. You know who I’m talking about. The water-walkers. Those everyone fights to get into their organization. But because of the nature of the beast, they’re rare. So the question becomes, how does each individual move closer to water-walking every day driven by increasing levels of self-motivation? And how can we, as leaders, help influence that movement? That’s where these external energies of fear-tactics, motivation, and inspiration come into play. Let’s walk through each and the impact it can have on self-motivation.
In the game of fear, the energy PUSHES. And it works…for a time. But the major drawback of fear is the impact it has on an individual’s self-motivation. It works against it, pulling it away from the desired goal. This makes it unsustainable in the long run. I once worked for a President who had a track-record of his employees suddenly leaving the company ‘to pursue other interests’. Such a clever way to guise termination, right? So, I and my peers became moved by the fear of losing our jobs. I delivered against my work plan as best I could from fear of miss-stepping and ‘pursuing other interests’ myself. It was exhausting. Work lost it’s fun and excitement. Worst yet, my self-motivation to achieve results was being slowly strangled by the hands of fear. And when it came to the next fiscal year, the next project assignments, I found I had less starting energy and was beginning to look elsewhere in the company for opportunity. My self-motivation was pulling me away from that President’s goals and towards goals of my own. Bottom-line, fear tactics work but aren’t sustainable and wreak havoc on self-motivation.
Ah, motivation. A leadership ‘go-to’. It is certainly more effective and sustainable than fear-tactics. Though motivation is also a PUSH energy. But unlike fear, it works in concert with self-motivation. As external motivation increases, so does self-motivation. A tool of motivation I know very well is a paycheck. I’ve had many jobs where I was delivering against my work plan because I was paid well to do so and it kept the lights on and afforded a comfortable lifestyle. But if the company had decided to stop paying me, well I would not have stuck around. My self-motivation to be there would shrink to zero. Other of the many forms of external motivation are advancement, bonuses, and other elements of financial or influential gain. Though more effective and sustainable than fear, motivation does have its drawbacks. The main being that it requires constant energy because without it, self-motivation will likely wane.
Here we go. Inspiration. A beautiful PULL energy. Inspiration pulls self-motivation forward. You know that delicious feeling of being inspired? When that energy within, that rocket fuel desire to excel bubbles up from seemingly nowhere? It’s magical isn’t it? When we’re working fully inspired, is when we reach that willingness to deliver results outside of external motivation. It’s the insight behind that saying ‘you know you’re living on purpose when you’d keep doing it for free’. And the beauty of inspiration is it’s not constantly required to move results forward. A single point of inspiration can pull self-motivation through an individual for many, many years. One event…one encounter…one mission statement could serve as that single point to pull an entire organization towards breakthrough results. I’m admittingly bias, but I found P&G an incredibly inspiring place to work. I was designing and delivering innovation that improved the daily lives of consumers. My mom, my dad, my sister…I was creating solutions to make their lives easier. Knocking out one less thing for them to worry about in a day. To attend focus groups of consumers, using my designs and being delighted and excited by them, begging for additional samples was a significant point of inspiration for me that sparked self-motivation for months on end.
All said, what’s the answer? Which is best? The truth is, the leadership required in today’s workplace demands dimension and dexterity. There could very well be situations better suited for one tool over another. Or others still where multiple tools are required. In other words, I’m not advocating for 100% inspiration as a cost savings to no longer pay your employees. The lesson rather is to be mindful of the dynamic you create within your employees, co-workers, and organizations as a whole with the tool(s) you choose to leverage. The lesson is to lead with wisdom and eyes wide-open, employing strategies to fuel the greatest growth engine of all: self-motivation.