Discover the Best Method of Motivation

The chief task of leadership is the same for all: to motivate people who will then use their skills and efforts to achieve the goals of the organization. The operative word in that definition is motivate.

The attention given to motivation isn’t new. Since the first recorded history, leaders have attempted to discover new ways to attract the willing cooperation of others. Records of their attempts – along with accounts of their successes and failures – have filled countless volumes, but all of the different methods discovered can be sorted into three basic categories: fear, incentive, and attitude.

Motivation Through Fear

The oldest method of motivation is fear. Physical strength was originally the source of power, and weaker members of the group followed orders because they feared the physical punishment that was sure to result from refusal to conform.

As society became more organized, other types of power came into play: social, economic, and political pressures forced obedience. Even today, the attempt persists to use fear to motivate people to behave in desired ways. Families and schools try to control children with the threat of punishment or with-holding of privileges. The threat of punishment is the basis of our criminal justice system. Fear is even used in the business world with rules and policies for undesirable behavior – all the way from a memo of censure placed in the personnel file to denial of increased pay to outright dismissal.

Motivation Through Incentive

Although fear is often a powerful motivator, many would-be leaders who lacked the personal power to demand obedience looked for other methods of producing the cooperation they wanted. They realized that every behavior is the result of a desire either to gain a benefit or to avoid a loss. Since they lacked the power to enforce a threatened loss, they offered an incentive – the promise of some gain to those who complied.

Incentive motivation is generally regarded as a more enlightened strategy than fear. Families and schools use the promise of rewards to coax children to perform. Organizations offer people awards, prizes, and privileges for certain achievements.

Motivation Through Attitude

The master method of motivation is attitude. When people are willing to perform because they personally believe that a particular course of action is right, they’re self-motivated. It’s then unnecessary for anyone else to “motivate” them.

All three of these basic approaches to motivation have been available since the early beginnings of organized society. Both fear and incentive motivation have consistently proved to be temporary.

Fear ceases to exist if the power to inflict punishment is gone. But it also ceases to motivate action if people find out they can live with the punishment, or that the threat of punishment isn’t likely to be carried out. A team member who is careless about following established procedures learns that the only punishment is an angry reprimand; it may be easier to tune out the lecture than to follow the rules exactly. Fear is successful as a motivator only if the pres-sure is constant and power to punish is exercised.

Incentive motivation loses its power when the promised rewards are perceived either as unattainable or as unappealing. When employees consistently earn a promised reward over a period of time that reward is expected. It no longer appears desirable enough to inspire extra effort. It’s soon looked upon as a right instead of a reward. Incentives must become progressively more impressive to continue to motivate de-sired behavior.

Both fear and incentive motivation fall short because they’re externally controlled and temporary. Attitude motivation, on the other hand, is a permanent force for producing desired behavior. Attitude motivation grows out of the individual’s dreams and desires. It’s a function of the need to belong, achieve, and use the innate talents with which the individual is endowed. The nature of attitude motivation addresses the basic problems a leader faces. Motivating people is basically a matter of showing them how to develop the power of self-motivation and then demonstrating to them the desirability of using that power to accomplish the organization’s purpose.

Admittedly, it takes longer to start the process of achievement in your organization through attitude motivation than you might produce through either fear or incentive. But once team members have experienced the sense of fulfillment that comes through the use of attitude motivation, they’re permanently sold on making full use of their potential.

Leadership Management® Institute

Reprinted with permission
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