Getting to the Heart of Motivation


The topic of motivation is an emotional one that speaks to the heart of why we choose to do something or alternatively, choose something else.


“Tell me…can a manager truly motivate someone to act, or can the manager only create the right environment where someone motivates themselves to act? In other words, is motivation an internal matter of the heart, or is it something that comes from outside a person?”

I recently posed this to a group of about sixty mid and senior-level managers in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries by way of kicking off a leadership discussion on talent development. Seated in groups of four to six people to a table, the table discussions became rather lively as people responded with their views on the topic.

Have you ever thought about your team, their motivators, and your role as a manager or leader? This article will explore the practical side of motivation and some of the best practices associated with maintaining a highly motivated and engaged workforce.

According to the dictionary, motivation is a noun that refers to the process of providing a reason or cause for someone to act in a certain way; that which spurs someone forward to action or to achieve a result.


Motivation Methods that Fall Short

Before we look at steps a manager can take to increase motivation, let’s explore three methods that have proven to fall short, and in some cases, de-motivate employees:

  • Command and Control – the leader issues orders to staff and expects them to be followed. Individual thinking and creative approaches are discouraged; there is one right way to accomplish something (the leader’s). Why this approach fails: people are not valued and see their job as a robot completing a task without using their creativity and individuality.
  • Carrot and Stick – the leader sets up a series of rewards for those who achieve a certain standard and a series of penalties for those who fall short. Why this approach fails: this is largely a fear-based system. For those who perceive the carrot far away, there is no use in trying. For those who achieve the carrot regularly, it gets boring and there is no reason to stretch further.
  • Humanism (Being VERY Nice) – the leader convinces others to do it for him/her because he/she is so nice to them. Why this approach fails: the leader has to play rescuer all the time, and the first time the leader is not so nice, he/she is seen as a manipulator.


Factors That Motivate

Several years ago Tiny Pulse conducted a survey of 200,000 people responding to the question, what motivates you to go the extra mile for your organization? Here were the Top Ten answers:



The Other category contained factors such as decision-making ability; loyalty; being respected; being listened to; being part of a winning team; advancement opportunities; and dozens of others.

Another finding of the Tiny Pulse study was that an individual’s motivation typically changes over time. For example, financial rewards were important to individuals earning less than what meets their needs, but lessened in importance when income got above a certain point. Or when advancement to a certain level was attained, advancement became a less important motivator.


Create Your Team’s Motivational Map

Here’s a practical way to make what motivates the people on your team both real and actionable. It’s also a very effective team-building exercise that can open up better communications.

1. After assembling your team, break up into small groups of two to four people each. Their assignment is to develop a list of as many things that motivate them as they can identify in two minutes.

2. Next, build a group master list on a whiteboard or flip chart. Go round-robin to select one motivator from each group until all are named. If the same motivator is named more than once, add a tick mark next to it.

3. Third, with no group discussion, have each individual build his or her own personal, prioritized list of motivators, (from most to least important), using the master group list to help them prioritize their own. Have them write down their list and put their name and date on their list. Remind people there are no right or wrong, good or bad motivators, just what is true for the individual.

4. Now, have each person go one-by-one and read aloud their own prioritized list. You’ll quickly realize that each person’s list is most likely unique to them. Some may list the same motivating factors, but in a different order.

5. Then have a general discussion of what participants learned as they participated.

6. Collect the lists and create a master list with all group members, then publish out to the whole team.

Effective managers use the list to help them work more effectively with each person on the team using his or her own set of motivators.


Bottom Line

Getting to the heart of motivation helps us to better understand what drives our own behavioral choices. Having a strong grasp of the motivators most important to each person with whom we work with helps us relate to each one more effectively, build better relationships, and improve overall communications.

I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:

I work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. My company’s acclaimed career development tools help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search. To find out more, please visit us at, email us at, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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