4 min read

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to know the secret to motivation. First, because I’d like to do a better job of motivating myself and then I’d like to know how to motivate others. Why is this important? Because we all know that the level of productivity rises as the motivation rises. Of course, all organizations have to deal with constraints, but these can never completely subvert the power of human motivation. So what is the secret?

I don’t know. I doubt there is one secret to motivation, but there is some reliable information we have acquired about it through years of research on the topic. Here are some of the things we know:

  1. Adults possess an inner drive to find meaning in their own particular environment and life. We have an innate urgency to makes sense of our world. To be invited by someone whom we consider competent and trustworthy to come and discover meaning is an invigorating experience. As a leader, you can count on the presence of this inner drive as you work with people. It may be hidden deep under layers of past demoralizing experiences. But a skillful leader will find ways to bring to the surface the drive to understand one’s world.
  2. Adults possess an intense desire to be effective in doing the things they highly value. So, if a leader can discover those values and show how the organization will help the employee to be more competent at activating their own values, then motivation will be a natural result. I hope you’re starting to notice that motivating others is not the same thing as manipulating others. It is truly about helping people discover themselves and then finding the connection with that self and your organization.
  3. Motivation is always present when people or systems improve. In other words, without motivation, you will not see improvement, learning, or positive change. Motivation is an essential part of any improvement plan and at every juncture in the improvement process: during the planning stage, during the implementation stage, and during the follow-up and evaluation stage. As you design any type of improvement strategy, you have to consider these inner motivational drivers. Don’t just focus on your strategy, processes, and policies; focus on people. After all, a company is primarily a group of people coming together to accomplish a common goal.

If you can learn to tap into people’s intrinsic impulses, motivation will increase. You could even say that the purpose of leadership is to encourage forth the inner motivators that give life energy and meaning. The good news is that you don’t have to create motivation or resort to external rewards and threats of punishment that last only as long as the external causes are present. The more effective and ethical approach is to strive for intrinsic motivation by drawing from the well of these inherently human impulses.

Try to discover people’s “goals” and “expectations” rather than focusing on their needs. A need focus produces dependency, but a goal focus produces motivation. Employees come into a work situation with their own set of goals and expectations. Their level of motivation will be directly influenced by whether or not they feel that their job is helping them to meet these expectations. Adults respond to their own goals and perceptions, not those of their leader. It is therefore imperative that you discover these goals and perceptions. Concentrate more on that, than you do on preaching YOUR goals and perceptions.

To assess employee goals and perceptions, you might try some of these methods:

  • Interview your employees.
  • Spend a time with your employees in a non-work environment.
  • Conduct a focus group.
  • Use written surveys.
  • Take time to see what they do in the work environment where they do it.
  • Actively listen to people; hear not just what they say, but what they are whispering beneath the words.

What do you think? How do you motivate others? How do you motivate yourself?


Photo: Art of Healing by Hartwig HKD, November 16, 2009. Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Portrait of Dr. Waddell

Dr. Greg Waddell is passionate about helping church leaders equip their people for ministry. He believes there is wild potential in every believer that begs to be released. He can help you develop and implement practical strategies for increasing the ministry capacity of your congregation.