Motivational Make-Up: A Key to Engagement

Key to EngagementMotivation.  Intrinsic or extrinsic rewards.  Carrots or sticks.  Empowerment or engagement.  The level of attention given to these dichotomies in leadership studies is astounding.  Yet, in the drive toward more effectively influencing groups of individuals, which is truly the essence of leadership itself, how ably one pulls the right levers to build commitment and enhance productivity is critical.  Critical…and, yes, incredibly complex.

Oh, but to possess the individual traits and/or charismatic qualities of the Piped Piper!  Imagine throngs of followers cheerfully following your every direction and directive with the mere notes on your magical flute!  If only it was that easy…

So, why does motivation remain such a challenge for leaders?  Emerging front-line leaders to senior executives struggle equally when it comes to understanding and leveraging the motivations of followers.  Much of the confusion, it seems, lies in simply viewing motivation as one thing…the one magic lever to be pulled in every situation and with every follower.

In The G Quotient, author and researcher Kirk Snyder presents several key types of motivation in the workplace – achievement motivation, authority and power motivation, and affiliation motivation.  Yet, it’s not as simple as identifying which type applies to each individual follower.  In actuality, all of us have varying levels of motivation that fit into each type, and the ability of a leader to identify the formulaic mix of each worker at a given time defines the effectiveness of that leader in leveraging it.

Let’s take a brief look at Snyder’s definitions of each type of workplace motivation…

  • Achievement motivation – as the name implies, this speaks to an individual’s need to accomplish challenging goals and feel the success that comes from personal achievement
  • Authority & Power motivation – this is exemplified by the level of influence and effectiveness an individual perceives based on their positional status or prestige
  • Affiliation motivation – at its core, this motivation is driven by a sense of belonging and by interactions with others

The point here is not that these three represent all possible types of motivation.  A quick glance at the literature confirms myriad representations of motivation strains.  Rather, the importance here is to acknowledge that each of us is affected by multiple, simultaneous motivating factors.

“Wouldn’t it be simpler to focus on just one type of motivation?” Rebecca, a mid-level account manager, asked toward the end of one of our coaching sessions.

Of course it would!  But doing so would be to accept a largely ineffective leadership practice.  It’s clearly not what I would recommend.  Each of your followers brings unique value, and the way to fully engage that value is to understand, acknowledge, and respond directly to the specific motivational “make-up” of that person.  When leaders do that, they raise not only the engagement levels of the entire organization to higher levels, but also the productivity and commitment of each and every worker.

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