Harnessing the Power of Motivation

Published March 10, 2020


Leading OthersSupervising People

Take a moment to consider some of the most satisfying accomplishments in your life.

  • Maybe it was the time when you won a new account for your company, and it changed the course of your career.
  • Maybe it was the time when you gave the best speech of your life, and even though there were only thirty people in the room, you were on a high for a week afterward just knowing that you had done your best.
  • Maybe it was when your team won an important game, and even though you didn’t score the winning goal or even play much, you felt deeply gratified just being a part of something great.

We routinely experience these kinds of wins in life, but my research shows most people rarely stop to consider why those moments were so deeply gratifying.

For example, why was winning that account so important to you? Maybe it was because you are wired to want to achieve big wins, and this was a really important one. Or, maybe it was because of the external validation that the ensuing promotion gave you. Or, maybe it was because you’d been working on this account for two years and you had finally overcome a big challenge.

Your achievements are important to you because of some unique mix of drivers that create meaning and satisfaction in your life.

Every human is motivated by a unique motivational core…

Here’s the odd thing: each of us would find the exact same accomplishment gratifying, but for very different reasons. Every human is motivated by a unique motivational core, which means we each derive our motivational energy in very different ways.

This brings me to leadership.

Many managers attempt to motivate their team by using “blunt force,” one-size-fits-all approaches. They give bonuses, promotions, titles and raises. They give increased flexibility in work schedules, days off and encouragement—and they use any number of other blunt-force methods to try to motivate deeper engagement.

The problem is, none of these methods work effectively for very long because they don’t speak directly to the unique motivation of each team member.

Even more disturbing, the research of Edward Deci and colleagues shows that when managers rely upon external motivators, the team’s performance becomes propped up by these external stimuli. Thus, engagement and productivity begin to fail once the motivators are removed.

Instead of these blunt-force methods, managers must strive to discover the core motivation of each person on their team, then lead them accordingly. This is not a one-time, set it and forget it thing. Rather, it’s an ongoing conversation.

To get a handle on your team’s internal motivators, take time to debrief after individual and team successes. Take time to dissect wins with your direct reports and identify what went right.


Here are a few questions to ask a team member in the wake of a big accomplishment:

1. Was this success personally gratifying to you? If so, why? If not, can you identify a reason?

A team member might respond, “Not really, because I really like working with a team and this was mostly a solo effort.”

Or they might say, “Yes! I really enjoyed getting to present the final results to the group.”

Encourage your team members to reflect not just on what happened but also on what it meant to them on a personal level. We so often just move on to the next project without any consideration of what we just experienced. But by paying attention to patterns of engagement, over time it’s possible to begin to identify patterns of engagement and deep motivation within their role.


2. What specific role did you play in this success? Did you enjoy the role you played?

Because team members often touch only one small part of a project, and rarely get to see the work through from beginning to end, it’s helpful to reflect on how they contributed to the project and how it was different because of their involvement. Challenge your team members to consider what they specifically did to contribute to the success.


3. Can you think of another time when you experienced this kind of gratification? Are there any commonalities with the project you just completed?

You want to encourage your team members to consider any motivational patterns in their life. Are there other moments when they felt deeply engaged and gratified at the end of a successful project? How were the activities, the team or the setting similar to the one they just completed? Is there anything that can be learned about personal motivation from the patterns?

If you want your team to be deeply engaged…you must begin by learning what makes them tick.


If you want your team to be deeply engaged, to spend discretionary energy pushing projects to be as excellent as possible and to be effective collaborators, you must begin by learning what makes them tick.

We’re all busy, but if you make the time to ask about what drives your team’s engagement, then manage them according to their personal motivation, they will reward you with the best work of their life.

About the Author
Todd Henry is a 2019 Global Leadership Summit Speaker.

Todd Henry

Founder, Accidental Creative; Author; Leadership Consultant

Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. As host of The Accidental Creative podcast—with millions of downloads—Henry delivers weekly tips and ideas for staying prolific, brilliant and healthy. He is the author of five books, including Die Empty which was named by Amazon as one of the best books of 2013. Henry’s latest book, The Motivation Code: Discover The Hidden Forces That Drive Your Best Work, reveals the forces that drive deep engagement and unleash motivation for people and teams.

Years at GLS 2019