The art of motivating

Magazine excerpt: Pierre Casse and Artem Konstandian explore the leader’s role in motivation.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

The ability to motivate is the beating heart of powerful, effective leadership. Leaders can only create high performance environments with highly motivated people. With highly motivated people committed to leadership vision, organisational potential is limitless.

So the question is – how can the leader motivate people? While there is no shortage of theories, concepts, guidelines and recommendations as to how a leader should motivate – many of which offer food for thought – definite, practicable solutions are elusive.

Reflecting on our many years of experience of leadership in the field, we would like to submit the following premises in relation to motivating people.

One does not motivate people, people motivate themselves

“People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.” Andrew Carnegie

People are motivated when they can clearly see good reason to perform as expected and so the leader should keep under constant review the critical question: What is in it for my people?

In other words, the leader should keep in mind the following maxim: “Motivation equals the perceived pleasure of the required action plus the perceived value of the result of that action minus the costs involved.” The costs involved may include psychological and/or social costs, the energy spent and the related opportunity costs.

People do not behave rationally; irrational behaviour is the norm

“Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.” James Dean

It is a common misconception that human behaviour is driven by rationality and common sense. Indeed, it is not easy to define what is rational since what is rational is often determined by environmental factors. For instance, that which is considered rational in one culture may be considered irrational in another. Moreover, that which may prove rational for the individual today may prove the opposite for the group tomorrow. Therefore, the leader must exercise caution when assessing behaviour as ‘irrational’ too quickly. People are ‘rationally irrational’.

Motivation evolves over time

“A leader’s job is to help people have vision of their potential.” John Porter

The level and intensity of motivation of a young person at the beginning of their career is not the same as that of somebody who is on the verge of retirement. Motivation is dependent on the position one has in an organisation or society. As one goes up the ladder in a social system, the desire to act transforms itself.

Research has shown that the level of an individual’s motivation is closely related to their manager’s perception of their ability to perform a certain level. A concept which is often referred to as the Pygmalion effect.

Most people are sensitive to what their leaders think

“Achievement under pressure and in a very competitive environment should never be taken for granted.” – Anonymous

It is important that the leader recognises, and rewards, those who perform well. Highlighting levels of desired performance in open forum, provided it is fair, timely and well-justified, can be a powerful motivational tool for everyone. However, the leader must ensure that such praise is expressed in such a way that it does not demotivate those who are not on the receiving end. To give the proper recognition after a successful piece of work can be very motivating for many people. Steve Jobs at Apple could be very rude with people but also very proud of their achievements and would often express the fact publically.

This is an excerpt from the June issue of TJ Magazine. To read the full version, subscribe for less than £2 a week here 


About the authors

Pierre Casse is leadership chair at IEDC-Bled School of Management and at the Moscow School of Management and can be contacted at pierre.casse@gmail.comArtem Konstandian is a member of the Presidential Board on Jurisdiction of Armenia and member of the Board of Directors of Ardshinbank (Yerevan, Armenia​).


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