Carrot and StickLeaders often ask me “How can I motivate my people?” Whether you are near the end of the calendar year or starting the academic year, you should be thinking about your best people and what motivates them.

The Problem With Motivating Others

The problem with wanting to “motivate” another person is twofold:

  1. Real motivation comes from within the other person—you can’t give someone else motivation.
  2. Different people are motivated by different things—sometimes a mix of motivators.

The definition for motivation is “the desire or willingness for someone to do something.” Some synonyms are enthusiasm, drive, ambition, and initiative.

What Motivates Us?

Our motivations are generated from what’s important to us. As human beings we typically move away from pain and/or toward opportunity. Hence, the age-old “carrot and stick” thinking.

Which of these motivators are a carrot or a stick for you? Are some both carrot and stick?

  • Money? What money and how much?
  • Impact on colleagues?
  • Impact on customer or clients?
  • Impact on results?
  • Achieving as a team?
  • Leading a winning team?
  • Beating the competition?
  • Reputation in the company? Field of industry?
  • Status?
  • Learning or building new capabilities?
  • Creating or innovating first-in-class or best-in-class?
  • Security or safety?

Consider whether your personal motivators are one primary motivator or multiple motivators. Think, what really makes you push or pull yourself to do the extraordinary? Then put some words around the motivators.

For example, I am firstly motivated by making a personal impact on a leader or team or organization…to help them achieve exactly what they want. If they want me to help, I want to be the one to help them. Secondly, I love to create new ideas and products.

For me, it’s not so much about the money or status or any of the others offered above. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to make a lot of money. Its just that the threat of not making money or the opportunity to make exponential dollars isn’t enough if I don’t like the work and the people.

What is it for you? Being able to be clear and articulate about what will drive your behavior is a powerful aspect to your leadership and followership.

If You Can’t Motivate Your People—What Can You Do?

So, you can’t produce the desire for the person, but you can:

  1. Work to understand what is important to that person.
  2. Do what you can to create a carrot that will move the person.
  3. Encourage the person to create their own motivating opportunity.
  4. Illuminate a potential “stick” that the person cares about. Then turn that into an opportunity.

With new understanding rather than assumptions that we all have the same desires, leaders can stimulate the environment and the people to excel.