One of the most important qualities a leader must have is the ability to motivate others. To be motivated means “to be moved” and this can be achieved by extrinsic and/or intrinsic motivators. Extrinsic motivation is the use of outside sources—such as money, rewards, etc.—to spark incentive, whereas intrinsic motivation is rooted in encouraging individual initiative to complete a task one finds appealing.
The question is which one of these motivations is the best way to encourage work? A study conducted by two University of Rochester professors, Dr. Edward Deci—a pioneer in research on intrinsic motivation—and Dr. Richard Ryan, shows that it is indeed intrinsic motivation that does the trick.
“Intrinsically motivated behaviors, which are performed out of interest and satisfy the innate psychological needs for competence and autonomy are the prototype of self-determined behavior…internalization and integration are the processes through which extrinsically motivated behaviors become more self-determined” (Ryan & Deci 2000). While outside sources of motivation can unquestionably create incentive, it is the internalization of those rewards, in combination with internal personal drive and values that truly motivates a person to do their job.
Dr. Maynard Brusman, a good friend and colleague of mine from San Francisco, once told me that individuals get their best work done when they are in a state of “flow.” Flow can be created when states of autonomy exist with sufficient time to achieve mastery and a sense of higher purpose. These conditions are difficult to establish in many work environments. In the end, the responsibility for intrinsic motivation more often than not lies with the employee. Employers need to do what they can to make opportunities for an intrinsically motivated workforce. But there’s truth in the old axiom—“you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink”. Intrinsic motivation has to come from within.
While it’s challenging to “light the flame” of intrinsic motivation, leaders can improve their success by doing what they can to create the conditions in which “fire” can ignite:
Feedback—positive and negative feedback are great intrinsic motivators; the more sources feedback comes from, the more effective it is as a motivator.
Lots of skills—when a variety of skill sets are required for employees to use, they find they are more motivated to complete the tasks; no one wants to be stuck doing the same thing day-in and day-out with no variety.
Autonomy—when individuals feel they have independence in a task or job, they are more likely to feel motivated, and to be as productive as possible.
Mine—(or “ours” for a team atmosphere)—individuals are more likely to be motivated when they are going to be held responsible for the job they’ve been asked to do.
Effect on others—employees need to feel that they are a part of the greater good; when people see that their work affects others they are more motivated to make sure the job is performed to the best of their abilities.