The APQC Blog

How Bad Motivations Can Erode Leadership

We discuss in my last blog how to understand the organization and know what is and is not accepted. With that information in mind, you can focus on the individual. Helping them understand themselves is key to enabling them be the best they can be by individualizing their development.

Step 2: Know Them

Really know those you are grooming for growth, so you know where they need help. There are four main things you need to know about your high-potential candidates:

1. Their Motivators: What intrinsically motivates this person? At my previous organization, we did an exercise from the book I-Engage by Bob Kelleher. The exercise group was comprised of senior leaders that had worked together for a long time, some for over 20 years. Prior to the exercise, engagement scores had fallen, but management continued to insist it knew what intrinsically motivated each other and in turn, also knew their employees’ motivators.

We hung up the seven intrinsic motivators identified in the book, on the wall around the room. Definitions were given for each motivator and we were asked to write the name of each participant on post it notes and stick the appropriate name on what we though motivated them. Once that was done, everyone was asked to stand next to the motivator they thought best described themselves. Of the 15 people in the exercise, only two people’s motivations were correctly identified. Many were surprised at how others identified them. One leader was known as a tyrant, but if you really listened to what made him afraid, you could see that it was any threat to his security. He deeply appreciated a comfortable lifestyle, and if the finances were not trending the right way – he could exhibit tyrannical tendencies. Understanding that helps people in turn understand how to work with him. The exercise brought to light how difficult it was to understand people’s motivators.

So how do you teach someone to listen for clues on what motivates others? First, you have to understand what the basic motivators are. Some that are applicable to the workplace are:

  • Recognition
  • Accomplishment
  • Independence
  • Authority
  • Camaraderie
  • Fairness

Then, listen for the signs and cues through your daily work and conversations. Once you suspect what the motivator is, you can ask validating questions. Then you can support them by feeding that motivator. For example, my motivator is independence. I thrive on being left to figure something out with no more than a desired goal and a timeline. However, I do not like working alone and need a team to brainstorm with. But I hate being micromanaged or being pin holed by corporate policies, egos and rigidness to change. In many ways I see myself as an artist, so I get inspiration when it strikes – it could be a song, a conference, a video or a million other things. For my best work, I need the freedom to act when the motivation strikes. So understanding this, my leaders give me the independence to create what they have asked me to create. In performance management, we can set better goals knowing these motivators. Stifling my independence disengages me and frustrates my leader. Once you find out the core motivator use it – the outcome is beautiful.

2. Their drivers: It is said that drive is the precursor to motivation. We come to work every day with a myriad of experiences, lifestyles, beliefs and backgrounds. I will be transparent here. I had a very difficult childhood and struggle with abandonment issues. Some may think that would not show up at work, but it most definitely has and still can at times. While I am secure in my knowledge, my replacement for what I didn't’ get as a child shows up at work as me replacing our leaders as my parent figures. I want them to know, appreciate, and support me. While intellectually I know it’s a business and they are not my parents, that fear is still present. Knowing this about me – my leader can reassure that I understand the situation in a way that dispels my fears. Simon Sinek says that leadership is about creating safety, but you have to know someone’s fears before you can create safety. Complex, isn’t it? This understanding about a person isn’t always easy to gain and depends on that person’s self-awareness and openness. Every individual is different and it is worth your time to understand the whole person.

3. Their natural tendencies: There are many innate qualities said to predispose someone for leadership. Every leadership coach, writer, or blogger has a list. I have yet to see one that doesn’t include ethics in one form or another. While it is true that we all change and grow as we mature, there are fundamental basic characteristics that are intrinsic. There is no training course you can put someone through that will teach them integrity. It’s there or it’s not. Look at the qualities that you want and ask yourself again, are these natural to that person? Is it something you could teach them?

4. Their blind spots: We all have them, but there are different types. Some have the potential to stall your career and some require awareness. It is important to identify those and work through them. This is not as easy as it sounds, it is difficult to accept some things about ourselves. If your employees trust you and are clear that your intentions are supportive, then working through these blind spots can be lifechanging. This is true for anyone in your organization, not just those in succession planning. Your current performance management system should ensure you have the ability to identify and work through these blind spots; ultimately making each employee and the overall organization successful.

Stay tuned for the next installment which will explore how you can nurture future leaders to achieve their potential.

Jamie Capehart is an organizational excellence proponent that is passionate about people being the best they can be. Dreamer, doer, innovator. She is the manager of organizational development at The Goodway Group, APQC thought leader, and guest blogger. The views expressed here are from Jamie Capehart and do not reflect The Goodway Group.

You can connect with Jamie on Linked In  or follower her on twitter, @jamiecapehart.