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Motivation – Internal or External?

What motivates us? What is the driver that pushes us to excel at what we do both professionally and personally? Money, opportunity, fear, a good cause? These are just a few of the motivating factors that drive what we do and how we do it.

I’ve had it asked of me – “Does motivation come from within or externally?” Often times I hear about how a hockey coach will “motivate” the team. To me I don’t think anyone can actually motivate someone else. There needs to be a drive within a person to go ahead and really try at something. There can be an external stakeholder putting conditions into place that make it easier for us to find that drive but ultimately that drive needs to come from within. Our minds are not wired to allow an external entity change our thought process to put us in a position to be motivated to take something on – we need to want it for ourselves.

Some real world examples: Say you are in a position where you should lose some weight. Your doctor has advised you that your health would be better if you did. Will that be enough to motivate us? For some, possibly, for others there may be no immediate need. Down the road you may run into weight-related health issues (high blood pressure, diabetes, etc). That may trigger an internal desire to be motivated to lose weight. The external factors (the doctor, your family) have remained the same but the internal motivators have kicked in and we’re now driven to meet that goal.

The same can be said in the business world. When we have our project teams assembled, how best do we motivate them? There is no really simple cookie-cutter answer except to provide triggers to internal motivators for each team member. This can sometimes prove challenging depending on the personalities and mindsets of the individuals. Maybe it’s dangling a monetary bonus or a promotion for a job well done (although there have been studies done that prove this narrows vision and may lead to poorer results). Other triggers could include a more abstract offering – that feeling of a job well done and a happy client is often a driver for project teams.

Repeat business and more work is often a motivator of leadership and business owners and if that motivation can somehow be translated to internal motivators for our team members you can build a very powerful team.

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