Rung-by-rung Motivation for Your Leaders

By Tom Davidson

If there is a Holy Grail of leadership, it’s motivation. What is it? How is it achieved? What are the secrets to its success?

Motivation is one of the rungs on the ladder of effort. On the low end is obfuscation, and on the high end is inspiration. Your challenge as a new manager, experienced supervisor or senior executive is to learn how to move individuals, teams and organizations, respectively, from one rung to the next.

Obfuscation is the state of evading one’s responsibility.
According to a Gallup study, 24 percent of the workforce falls into the category of “actively disengaged.” People at this level of effort are normally in a poor state of mind, a poor fitting job, or a poorly led working environment. Your goal as the supervisor is to ensure that the employee is clear about what is needed and has the tools (i.e., skills, knowledge and ability) to do it. If they choose not to, then they should be managed out of the organization. If they step up, then they are on the next rung of the continuum.

Participation is the state of doing one’s share of the work.
In the workplace, about 63 percent of the workforce is participating, what Gallup calls “not engaged.” Their performance reviews will say that they “meet expectations,” do what they’re asked, collect their paychecks, and go about their other – more motivating – business. As the supervisor of individuals in this category, your first responsibility is to see that they don’t become actively disengaged, and your second is to discover their intrinsic motivations, align them with the work, and watch them move to the next level of effort.

Motivation is the state of doing more than expected.
Someone who is motivated expends more voluntary effort than necessary because they want to do so – for internal reasons. About 10 percent of the workforce is likely to volunteer this kind of discretionary effort, and it is likely to be short lived and need to be rekindled. As the supervisor of someone who is motivated, your job is to extend these motivated periods and help align the work with your associate’s unique motivations. 

Inspiration is the state of living and working with a purpose.
Only about three percent of the workforce feels they are doing what they are meant to do. When a person has what Daniel Pink calls in Drive autonomy, mastery and purpose, they are most likely to be inspired, the top of the ladder of effort where effort is most freely and easily given.

Thus the expression, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” (Confucius).

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