Gasp! This is a long post! Please skip it if you are not in the mood.
This is yet another section of the materials under development in the leadership programme. Here is a link to the page where I am collecting them. Enjoy!
I didn’t have much to say about motivation until I listened to Dan Pink. I thought of motivation in terms of identity. If I truly wanted to be a great athlete, for example, I should automatically feel motivated to practice and train. I didn’t think very much about motivation dissipation. About exhaustion. I just thought that if I had felt those things, it was a reflection of my own weakness. Bad boy!
But Dan got me thinking about motivation as something we generate for reasons. It is the result we get out of good living. I do not mean good living in a moral sense. I mean it in a functional sense. When we structure our activities around the right sorts of ideas, we will find ourselves brimming over with motivation. If this is true, it adds to the value of understanding leadership techniques. Effective leadership motivates.
So what are those “right sorts of ideas”? Economists who bow down to the god of rationality say it is all about incentives. Translation — money. Pay people more and you will get more out of them. Sounds logical, if you accept the premise. But psychologists long ago started finding flaws with the premise. In fact, the brain does not function as a factory of reason. Reason is our description of things we conclude without noticing how we got there. That is why it should have come as no surprise (as Dan reports) that giving money to people to get them to find creative solutions to problems doesn’t add anything. In fact, it tends to make them less creative. Shock! Horror! Before we leave the topic of money, I would make two small but important exceptions to the above. Money is critical for giving security to people so that they can focus (Meslow nailed this idea with his pyramid). It is also good for getting people to do more mechanical tasks, like picking up trash. People will pick up more if they get paid more. But once again, according to experimental data, it has no positive correlation to creative problem solving.
Dan calls this a problem of motivation. Money does not motivate us to get creative. So what does? Experiments show that three other rewards tend to motivate people to get more creative. They are (1) being part of a great purpose, (2) feeling that one is achieving mastery, and (3) feeling that one is becoming more autonomous.
If you want to get more deeply into this, read Dan’s book , Drive.
For our purposes, this gives us a jumping point to work on how leaders and followers interact. The interaction should motivate the group to a common goal and promote complex inter-relationships of learning to get there faster. That requires creativity, so we can plug in Dan’s metrics. Effective leaders should always thinking about and trying to build purpose, mastery and autonomy for people in the group. End of story, in a sense.
There are a few more elements to this motivation story worth taking over. First, is about the way we transmit ideas. The brain blocks out most of the input it receives. It has to in order to function. In other words, we already live according to stories that we created a long time ago. We have very limited capacity to deviate from those stories. That is what makes stories like “The King and I” so entertaining — the characters have to cope with the outer boundaries of their preconceived story lines. Think of your favorite story in terms of the characters finding the outer boundaries of their story lines. It is always the case — something powerful jolts them to that point, yes? This gives us a clue to how bound up we are by our identities (preconceived life stories).
Applying this — as leaders, we should not expect that our abstract assertions of purpose, mastery and autonomy will motivate people. We need to transmission tool that allows the listeners to turn off their blocking mechanisms (to “unblock”). There are at least four ideas that leaders need to work on to become more effective.
The first is to understand the power of story telling. We use stories all the time to allow people to unblock. We do it for fun over a beer. We do it with families over a meal. We do it when we read a story. Great leaders have to learn how to rely on stories rather than assertions. The best leaders tend to be great story tellers.
The second is to understand the emotional gift of feeling grateful. To put it bluntly, transmitting anger makes everyone stupid. Both the person who is angry and the people who perceive the anger (experiments bear this out). Transmitting thankfulness or gratefulness has the opposite effect. When we fell thankful, we become smarter. And interestingly, we feel thankful when we say thank you and when we hear thank you. Very powerful to help unblock.
The third is to understand which types of stories are most important Simon Sinek offers the right way to think about this. The key to getting to the right story is getting the “why” part right. The how and then the what follow. But if you start from what and then go to how and why, you are telling a story of failure. That could be excellent as a precautionary or self-depreciating tale. But stories that start from “the right why” bind us to great purposes and motivate the most. The how stories are more about mastery (also motivating). But we are comfortable about focusing on mastery only if we are comfortable about why we are doing it. The what component of the story is about seeing things as resources rather than separated from the story line. BTW, the more we can use resources the more autonomous we are, right? (also motivating). This presents a rather complex hierarchy of story lines. One that we need to think about and get right before we believe that we have mastered story telling as part of leadership.
Finally, not all types of communication have equal value in starting off a story. Assertions of fact tend to be the least useful. Questions about facts are much more engaging. It is, therefore, much easier to get story telling going with sincere questions than with assertions of sincerely held beliefs. Think about it.