There are two forms of employee motivation at work. Extrinsic motivation is external: pay, bonuses, overtime, commissions, rewards and other similar recognitions for hard work and attained organizational goals. Intrinsic motivation is internal: the desire to be the best at one’s job, to achieve or fulfill a purpose, to master a skill or technique, and other similar intellectual stimulations.
Most managers focus on offering the proper extrinsic motivators to their employees, hoping that the motivation will result in success for their team and their organization. Trophies, recognition ceremonies and other such events can accompany such offers, to “sweeten the pie” so to speak. Why? Because as managers these are things we can control. We offer them; they just need to take us up on them.
Research tells us, however, that the real fuel for success comes from the strength and stamina of intrinsic motivation, those inner drives we hope others already have. A person’s inner drive is more powerful, longer lasting and most rewarding of all. A manager who can encourage stronger intrinsic motivation among his or her team has the inside track to success.
But, as with all things, what is most powerful is usually the hardest to develop. Research tells us that most of our efforts to develop an employee’s inner drive is mostly futile, because what comes from within cannot be easily fostered from without. It is, as its name suggests, internal.
What motivation there is from within must be something the individual both wants to develop and works to develop over time. Most managers have neither the time or the energy to devote to such a slow and methodical process of employee development. They settle instead for the quick bonus or offering coveted days off to the top salesperson.
More recent research, however, offers a glimmer of hope to those managers wishing to leverage both forms of motivation. It offers us a clue to increasing the internal drivers we would wish to see in all of our employees.
A recent comparative study of two popular forms of leadership, Transformative Leadership and Authentic Leadership, found that the most effective leaders in their study practiced both forms of leadership interchangeably. Each form was effective, to be sure, but combined they offered greater employee performance and job satisfaction (incidentally, those proficient in both forms showed high levels of emotional intelligence).
The most striking find in the study was its conclusion that leaders who practiced both forms of leadership were most likely to influence the intrinsic motivations of their followers. Those leaders offering both a charismatic confidence of leadership and a vulnerability to be open and authentic in front of their teams indirectly offered their employees a glimpse at not only what good leadership does, but how good leaders feel, think and learn in the course of leading others. An exposure to such leadership, both the outer actions and inner, was itself an influencer in shaping the thoughts, habits and desires of those who followed them. Those witnessing the inner workings of a leader’s mind through openness and authenticity, while practicing an influential style of leadership, were themselves impacted to look and adjust within.
The lesson here is simple enough: if you want to motivate the inner workings of your employees, show them what motivates you, what shapes you and what challenges you. Speak to them as you go about the work of leadership, sharing your thoughts, hopes, fears and determinations. These are the secret pathways to growing the kind of motivation in others that research says has long eluded us.