Motivation is key for leadership and organizational success

Motivation is Key for Leadership and Organizational Success

4.2 min read

Greg L. Thomas

Motivating others is at the heart of leadership and organizational success. Before we discuss motivation, we need to understand the proper symbiotic relationship between people and organizations. First of all organizations should exist to serve human needs and not the other way around. Organizations and people need each other.

Employees need careers, opportunities, satisfaction and fulfilling work. Organizations need the energy, ideas and talent of its people. When the environment between the organization and individual is poor, one or both will suffer and become victims! The eventual result will be that either certain individuals will be exploited or they will exploit the organization.

With this foundation in mind we can see that leaders seek to nurture an organizational culture where work is productive, energizing and mutually rewarding. To motivate people we need to also understand their basic needs. Psychologist Abraham Maslow created an influential theory to group human needs into five basic categories. These needs are hierarchical and begin with lower or basic needs. As these lower needs are met and satisfied, individuals are motivated by higher needs. The five basic categories begin with physiological needs like water, food, air and physical health. As this need is achieved an individual would seek a higher need for safety from danger or threat. Next is the need for belongingness and love through personal relationships with other people. As this need is met one is then motivated by esteem, the feeling of being valued and respected. Finally, Maslow defined the highest need as self-actualization or the need to develop oneself to our fullest potential. Since Maslow published his “hierarchy of needs”, others have also introduced various theories to explain human needs. All of these theories confirm the complex nature of human motivation.

Researcher Chris Argyris discovered a basic conflict between human personality and the way typical organizations are managed and structured. He determined that managers or bosses tend to control people at the lower levels and this produces dependence and passivity, which are in conflict with the real needs of human beings. Many organizations attempt to restrain workers through the creation of mechanized jobs, tight controls and more directives resulting in frustration. Argyris identified six ways workers respond to these frustrations.

1. They withdraw…through chronic absenteeism or simply by quitting.
2. They stay on the job but psychologically withdraw by becoming passive, indifferent and apathetic.
3. They resist by reducing output, or by deception, sabotage or featherbedding.
4. They try to climb the hierarchy to escape to a better job.
5. They form groups like labor unions to redress a power imbalance.
6. They socialize their children to believe that work is unrewarding and opportunities for advancement are slim.

For many of us we have personally experienced or felt at least some of these frustrations. So what is motivation? It is the ability to provide an incentive or reason to compel others into action or a commitment.

How can a leader motivate others? It starts with the core value that employees are an investment and not a cost. The old model of management was that people are basically lazy, passive, have little ambition, resist change and must be treated like children. This dysfunctional management approach created generations of frustrated workers who reacted and worked exactly like they were treated. The leadership model of management realizes that people are the most valuable resource of an organization and typically its greatest untapped resource!

With this basic value, leaders establish a philosophy of an enhanced human resource strategy. They seek to hire the right people and reward them well. They provide a reasonable sense of job security, promote from within the organization whenever possible, budget generously to train and educate workers, share the wealth of the organization, and provide autonomy and participation. However, there is still one unique trait that sets leaders apart from others regarding human motivation. Leaders recognize that a “one size fits all” approach does not work in motivating most workers. Each person has individual and personal needs. When these are discovered and fulfilled, the human potential of each worker can be maximized.

For example, some individuals are primarily motivated by money, though this has proven to be a short-term motivator. Others are motivated by being part of a team or something bigger than themselves. Others are motivated by continual challenge. Others need constant praise. The point is that all people are different and your leadership goal should be to help each individual to meet their own needs as well as the organizations needs. In reality, helping individuals achieve their personal needs is the most powerful motivator and will result in successful organizational accomplishment. A leadership perspective recognizes the personal contribution of each worker as a source of his or her highest motivation. Each individual has enormous creative power and is a steward of change, problem solving and progress. The very first step in motivating others is to give them respect, dignity and praise for their efforts!

For weLEAD, this is Greg Thomas reminding you that it was Eleanor Roosevelt who once said, “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”


  • Quote of the Day

    “I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?”

    — Benjamin Disraeli