This concept, or principle, has been the topic of hundreds of book and essays.  From sport psychologists to managers, and from teachers to parents, motivation is something that we all need to express and fulfill, for ourselves and for others who work with us.

The word motivation comes from the term MOTIVE.  It means to move, or in this case, to “take action”.  In short, motivation is something that causes a person to act.  It is based on a REASON to act or do something.

The original or superseding motivation of humans is survival.  Fight or flight may be the first described option for motivation.  To survive, some people will choose to fight, simply because it is something they value, or learned, or experienced as a satisfactory manner with which to endure.  Others prefer to flee, either because they cannot fight, because it makes them feel more secure or simply because they learned it was the best option.  In any case, the motivation to choose either comes from the person’s preferences, tendencies or beliefs, based on a plethora of reasons.  Asking or forcing someone to do the opposite of what they feel comfortable with may significantly jeopardize their very survival.

We can usually agree that actual survival, life or death, is not an issue in your work environment.  We are obviously motivated to feed our families, reach our dreams, accomplish tasks that are important and so forth.  The reasons explaining why we are more or less motivated to act depends a great deal on the environment or motives on which we are asked to carry the task or project, right?

How have motivation principles been adapted to leadership situations?

Motivation is the drive that someone has in learning or developing skills and competencies in the case of the recipient of coaching; influencing or inspiring the development of competencies or abilities as a coach or leader.  The decision to take action is based on the impact of that action (learning or inspiring in this case) on personal objectives, needs or goals.

In numerous management theories, motivation to accomplish a task has heavily rested on “Calculative-based behaviour” which is the drive to do something based on calculated cognitive outcomes of actions.  It simply means that one will act based on a clearly outlined tangible and measurable consequence. It is knowing that if one performs the task as requested, they will, for example, earn more money short term.  While this may work with a number of individuals, it does not take into account many other factors and certainly does not take the person’s motivations into consideration.  In both cases, this mistake can have far reaching and long lasting outcomes.

A study was conducted from 1945 to 1965 at the Minneapolis Gas Company.  It analyzed and measured the key elements that motivated people in the company.  The results are very telling.

The top 3 reasons for people to be motivated in the company were, and by far:

  • Advancement
  • Type of Work
  • Pride to work for the Company

Salary, money, bonus were very far at the bottom of the list.

You may think that 1965 was another era.  That things have changed significantly since then.  The majority of studies conducted since then continue to confirm the results obtained back then.  In fact, you may enjoy the YouTube video with Dan Pink on the topic of motivation:

Looking at these 3 reasons, it is evident that motivation varies from one individual to another and therefore, that motivation is based on self-determined needs.



Motivation is highly associated to people’s personalities and behaviour styles which in turn, determine the various Traits, Competencies and Values each person cares about.  There are two major dimensions to what motivates people to make decisions within the parameters we established above.

External dimension

They are defined as Instrumental Sources of Motivation.  In this case, the inspiration to act is founded on reward and recognitions.  The motivation comes from the effect actions may have on how others react or provide retribution for such actions.  Receiving a trophy, getting a promotion, putting ones hands on a bonus, being presented to a group as “the best” or the person that “did it”, being acclaimed by a group or a leadership figure, being given a prize of any kind or simply winning the competition are all forms of external inducers, dimensions that will inspire some people to be motivated.  People that are partial to the external dimension express certain Behaviours that relate to recognition, power, peace, pride, profit, etc.

Internal dimension

The individual expresses certain behaviours in spite of external feedback.  In this dimension the inspiration is born in the sheer satisfaction or ability to accomplish what counts for that person internally.  All the external recognition elements presented above may be either somewhat valued or completely dismissed if the recognition does not meet the internal “protocol” for value.  The ability to accomplish a task according to what a person considers the most effective manner is an example of internal dimension.  Being able to complete a project in a safe and collaborative environment is another way to look at it.  The inspiration comes from within for such individuals which means that winning the competition may be quite okay if the person is allowed to perform according to their own principles (team work, quality, ingenuity, precision, fairness).  Being the best in the team may be completely great if it means security or predictability for the next 2-3 years.  The drive for the behaviour comes from self-induced control and is mostly based on the PLEASURE of doing something as it relates to personal traits, competencies and values.

On the basis of this concept and the four different behaviour style preferences we have identified (Achiever, Protector, Director and Socializer), there are four general classes of motivators that closely mirror people’s behaviour style.


Externally driven people are typically Socializers and Achievers.

These people are very much influenced by how their actions and choices will make them look in the eyes of others.

Socializer preferences mainly need for other people to like, recognize, appreciate and interact with them.  Their most important motivator is the quality and quantity of recognition that comes back to them after making a decision or doing something.  In this case, we identify the motivator as SOCIAL.

Achiever preferences also focus their efforts on recognition, however they will measure the impact or value of their actions and decisions based on measurable outcomes.  They need to feel and touch or experience the result of their efforts.  Their motivation is therefore based on the PRIZE that will follow.


Internally driven people are typically Protector and Director.

Protector preferences will need consequences of their actions to be in congruence with their need for safety, common ground, harmony and methods.  They are typically motivated by CONFORMITY.

Director preferences need little recognition and base their decisions on measurable outcomes also, just like the Achiever.  The difference lies in their independence from external recognition.  The simple fact of doing the right thing according to their judgment is enough.  Therefore, a Director is motivated by the TASK itself.



Understanding what motivates a person or a group helps a leader present situations, ideas, or projects in a manner that makes sense to the people receiving the information.  Understanding that people are self-motivated helps leaders stop trying to find tricks to motivate individuals and groups (Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work.. and What Does.  Susan Fowler, 2014), and rather, orient their efforts to engage their teams in defining projects or challenges in a manner that makes sense to them.  But be careful, simply asking people what motivates them does not work.  Or rarely works.  One main reason is that individuals do not always consciously know what motivates them.  Or often, people will say what they think needs to be said.  For example, a sales person whose compensation relies heavily on bonuses linked to sales results, will likely be tempted to say that making the maximum bonus (Prize) is their motivation.  It may be true.  But it also may be false.  One question any true leader needs to ask is why.  Why do you care about the bonus?  We know, it sounds silly, even redundant to ask that question.  But is it really?  Ask yourselves this question:  why do I want success?  Why do I want to meet the maximum revenue?  Is it linked to safety (Conformity)?  Is it because it increases my perceived value in the eyes of others (Conformity, Social)?  Is it because it demonstrates that what I am doing, and how I am accomplishing it works (Task)?  The “why” for our action is the true sign of motivation.