The power of motivation

A good leader will know what his/her organisation’s typical ‘motivation traps’ are and help the new recruit overcome them


Kevin is the founder and owner of JOB Search -

Motivation is arguably the holy grail of management thinking; it comes into play in pretty much everything we do; from sports, to business, relationships, life. Understand what motivates people and you can lead any team; any organisation; pretty much anyone and anything.

Motivation is the reason why people do what they do. Why they get up in the morning; why they do ‘A’ instead of ‘B’; why they love or hate this over that; why they make the effort to go the extra mile; why they achieve great things or otherwise.

Phrasing it in more scientific terms: ‘Motivation involves the biological, emotional, social and cognitive forces that activate behaviour’. Simple to say but somewhat difficult to do. 

Truth be told, I have always been intrigued with the concept of ‘motivation’. Understand what really motivates people and almost anything can be achieved in life; understand what truly motivates your people and you can lead them to achieve a lot; understand what motivates your customers and you will have super loyal ‘disciples’. Motivation really is paramount in both work and life.

Highly successful people are highly motivated. Fact.

Tom Cruise when asked about ‘motivation’ once said: ‘Here’s how I’ve live my life: I’ve never been late to a set. I make films I believe in. I feel privileged to be able to do what I love.’

Margaret Thatcher, on receiving her school prize at the age of nine, allegedly remarked: ‘I wasn’t lucky. I deserved it.’ Now that’s a highly motivated nine-year-old, if every I saw one.

Steve Jobs lived his life as if every day were his last and as a consequence was ruthless in his decisions. He once said: ‘Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So, keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.’

On average, we spend one-third of our weekday at work, one-third out of work and the final third sleeping. If something accounts for one-third of something, it must be pretty important and therefore motivation is crucial. In HR consultancy and recruitment, I always try to highlight the importance of motivation levels in employees (existing or prospective) over anything else. I feel that a company is better off nurturing and recruiting highly motivated individuals. For some reason, however, people tend to underestimate the power of motivation; or they simply don’t care to understand it.

Now to understand ‘motivation’ you have to know the components that constitute it. I would say there are three components: Activation + Persistence + Intensity.

First, we take a decision to initiate a behaviour; this is known as ‘activation’.

Second, we have to persist to achieve our goal(s) despite obstacles that may exist.

Third, we inject vigour and intensity in our action(s). This is what highly motivated people (Tom Cruise, Steve Jobs, Margaret Thatcher) achieve great things.

I see this a lot in new recruits; they enter the ‘new’ job with a lot of enthusiasm, confidence and willingness to give it their all (aka they are highly motivated) but then as time passes and the organisational grind takes its toll, their pace slows down and somewhere along the line they lose their ‘motivation’.

The loser in this scenario is both the employer and the employee. Yet this is precisely when a leader proves his salt!

A good leader will know what his/her organisation’s typical ‘motivation traps’ are and help the new recruit overcome them.

A good leader will also know how to motivate his people over the long term. In addition, a high performing HR Team, supporting such leader, will know when people are demotivated and what the root cause is.

In fact, I recently read a business article which identified a quartet of typical ‘motivational traps’ which are worth sharing: (1) Values mismatch (2) Lack of self-efficacy (3) Disruptive emotions and (4) Attribution errors.

Therein lies the secret: you have to know what to look out for and how to tackle the issue. Each person will have his own unique story but generally speaking the traits are the same; as are the ‘motivational traps’.

To my mind, the ‘power of motivation’ when harnessed and understood well enough, is the secret to success; be it personal success, organisational success and/or a country’s success. I mean do you think a football club like Juventus or Barcelona doesn’t know how to motivate their management staff, coaches and players! Or do you think CEOs of high performing companies like Royal Dutch Shell,

Amazon or Walmart don’t know how to motivate their people and key stakeholders! Of course, they do.

Start with yourself. Learn how to motivate yourself first; master the power of motivation. Only then can you expand your horizons and learn to motivate those around you.

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