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Motivation Theory and Leadership

The word motivation is often defined as "getting someone moving." Motivation theory breaks down these forces into internal or intrinsic motivation, and external or extrinsic motivation. If you're in a leadership role, then it's important to understand how employees are motivated, and what you can do as a leader to keep them motivated.

Motivation Theory
When we motivate ourselves, or someone else, we are developing those incentives or conditions that we believe will help move a person to a desired behavior. Whether it is through intrinsic motivation or extrinsic motivation, most individuals are moved by their beliefs, values, personal interests, and even fear. One of the more difficult challenges to a leader is to learn how to effectively motivate those working for them. One of the reasons it's so difficult is because motivation can be so personal. Typically, inexperienced leaders believe that the same factors that motivate themselves will motivate others too. Another misconception held by inexperienced leaders is that the same factors that motivate one employee will work on another. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. As we will learn later on, one size does not fit all when it comes to motivation. Additional Resources Effective Leadership Ethical Leadership Leadership in Sports Motivation Theory and Leadership

Intrinsic or Self Motivation


Fundamentally, all motivation comes from within. So the most common concepts of motivation are those of self motivation, internal motivation, or intrinsic motivation. All of these terms are used interchangeably to describe the same motivational factors that come from within a person. Later, we will describe a second form of motivation, which is extrinsic or external motivation. While it is certainly recognized that external factors can motivate us, this is a secondary factor. For external forces to be effective in motivating us, they must be in harmony with one of our intrinsic motivational factors. In fact, several theorists such as Combs (1982), or Purkey & Stanley (1991), maintain that there is only a single kind of intrinsic motivation. That motivation is one that can be described as engaging in activities that enhance or maintain a person's self-image or concept of oneself. Other theorists such as Malone and Lepper (1987) define self motivation in broader and perhaps more useful terms. Malone and Lepper believe that motivation is simply what people will do without external influence. Said another way, self motivation or intrinsically motivating activities, are those in which people will partake in for no reward other than the enjoyment that these activities bring them. Malone and Lepper have integrated a large amount of motivational research into a summary of seven ways we, as the leadership of our organizations, can design environments that are self motivating.

Motivation through Challenges


Individuals are motivated when they are working towards personally meaningful goals. Attainment of those goals must require activity that is increasingly difficult, but attainable. In other words, people like to be challenged, but they must feel their goals are achievable to stay motivated. This can be accomplished by:

Establishing goals that are personally meaningful Making those goals possible Providing feedback on performance Aligning goals with the individual's self esteem

Motivation through Curiosity


In this concept of self motivation, we are talking about providing something in the individual's environment that arouses their curiosity. This can be accomplished by presenting the individual with something that connects their present knowledge or skills with a more desirable level - if the person were to engage in a certain activity. So to motivate someone through curiosity, the environment must stimulate their interest to learn more.

Motivation through Control


Most people like to feel they are in control of their destiny. They want to feel in control of what happens to them. To stay motivated, individuals must understand the cause and effect relationship between an action they will take and the result. To motivate individuals through the use of control you can:

Make the cause and effect relationship clear by establishing a goal and its reward Allow individuals to believe that the work they do makes a difference Allow individuals to choose what they want to learn and how to go about learning it

Motivation through Fantasy


Another intrinsic motivating factor comes via fantasy. That is individuals can use mental images of things and / or situations that are not actually present to motivate themselves. You can foster motivation through fantasy by helping individuals imagine themselves in situations that are motivating. For example, if you know that someone is highly motivated by the thought of being in control, then you can talk to them about a future point in time when they might be in charge of a large and important business operation.

Motivation through Competition


Individuals can also be motivated by competition. That's because we gain a certain amount of satisfaction by comparing our performance to that of others. This type of competition can occur naturally as well as artificially. When using competition to foster motivation, keep in mind the following:

Competition is more motivating to some than others Losing in a competition de-motivates more than winning motivates Competitive spirits can sometimes reduce the likelihood of being helpful to competitors

Motivation through Cooperation


Cooperating with others or the feeling that you can help others is very motivating. Most individuals feel quite satisfied when helping others achieve their goals. As was the case with competition, motivation through cooperation can occur naturally or artificially. When using cooperation to motivate, keep in mind:

Cooperation is more important to some individuals than others Cooperation is a valuable skill that can be used in many different situations Interpersonal skills are important for cooperation

Motivation through Recognition


Finally, individuals are motivated through recognition. When their accomplishments are recognized by others, then they feel motivated. You need to make sure that recognition is distinguished from competition. With recognition you do not compare their achievements to those of others as you might with a competition.

Extrinsic or External Motivation


As previously mentioned, extrinsic or external motivation is the term used to describe external factors that stimulate our internal motivation. The concept of externally motivating someone is not at odds with the fact that motivation comes from within. The point here is that it is possible to provide others with situations, or an external environment, that is motivating. Perhaps the most useful lesson for the leader then becomes how to motivate employees that report directly or indirectly to the leader. If you understand the intrinsic motivational factors previously described, then a game plan can be developed to foster motivation among employees.

Employee Motivation
Some of the most effective ways for managers and leaders to motivate their staff includes recognition, providing positive performance feedback, and by challenging employees to learn new things. Many new managers make the mistake of introducing de-motivating factors into the workplace such as punishment for mistakes, or frequent criticisms. When followers feel they are being supported, and they have the ability to remain in control of their workplace, they stay motivated. Leaders can foster this feeling by allowing employees to take on added responsibility and accountability for making decisions. The important thing to keep in mind is that motivation is individual, and the degree of motivation achieved through one single strategy will not be the most effective way to motivate all employees. The most effective way to determine what motivates others is through carefully planned trial and error.

Figuring Out What Motivates Others


That being said, we'll finish up with some tips on how to determine what motivates others:

Talk to your employees, not about what motivates them because they may not realize it themselves, but what they value. This will give you insights into which of the seven motivational factors might be high on their list. Test a factor on an employee. For example, if you think that recognition might help motivate an employee then try using that factor. Check in with employees about their feelings. It's always a good idea to get feedback from your employees. Make sure you're getting the reaction you're looking for. Be on the lookout for signs of de-motivation. Make sure you're not inadvertently introducing something into the work environment that is being counter-productive to your goal - motivated employees.

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