Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does

Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does

The new science of leading, energizing, and engaging

Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work and What Does review
If half of leadership is showing up, what’s the other half? Quite a lot, it turns out. The Internet is filled with pithy quotes about leadership. It looks so easy. All you have to do to be a good leader is “put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur,” (Nelson Mandela) or realize that a good leader “takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit” (Arnold Glasnow). Colin Powell says that “leadership is solving problems” but Lao Tzu reminds us that “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

What these quotes don’t tell us is how to be a great leader. How, exactly, should we put others in front? How should we celebrate? How do we take blame or credit? How do we solve problems? How do we delegate and involve others? The task of a leader is not an easy one and most of us have horror stories of leaders who were detrimental, even caustic. This book is a great start, but the change must begin with you as therein lies the true leader.

Learning how to be a leader might be a lot like learning how to be a parent — you end up doing it the way that you saw your mentors do it. You will lead like others have led you and in a changing world, that’s going to cause problems. Old-style leadership considers people as machines with nefarious motives, and that might have been somewhat true in the dawn of the industrial revolution, but if you expect better from your knowledge workers, you are going to need new leadership tools and skills. Carrots and sticks aren’t going to work anymore. Enter Susan Fowler’s book on motivation. Fowler draws on the science to show why old motivation tactics (like bribes) don’t work and new motivation skills (think values, personalized recognition) are required. In fact, you may even learn that as a leader, you actually can’t motivate others — they have to walk through that door themselves. Motivation, according to Fowler, occurs on a spectrum which she outlines in her book. This new model takes into account an individual’s psychological needs as well as their self-regulation. Delivering what she calls “motivational junk food” to people will only foster temporary compliance, not long-term drive and engagement. What do we really want anyhow? Fowler is not the first person to write about this topic, but if you haven’t read anything on self-determination theory (like Drive by Dan Pink or one of the Heath Brothers’ books, where they allude to this model), then Fowler provides you with a nice practical intro. This stuff works.


Originally published in volume 17 issue 3 of Your Workplace magazine.


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