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Why Motivation Is The Curse Of Leadership (And Social Media)


Motivate: goad, impel, drive, incite, persuade.

According to Marketdata Enterprises, Motivational Speakers in the U.S. alone, took home more than $1 billion in 2016.

Motivational quotes abound on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Employee Motivation is the subject of much research and advice: In his book The Motivation Toolkit, David Kreps writes about ‘secret weapons for motivating employees’

But behind our insatiable appetite for motivation lies a fundamental and damaging ignorance of what motivation actually is, and where it really comes from:

The entire motivational industry is founded on the notion that you can motivate me – that you can supply me with the energy (the motive power) that I need to move myself into productive action. This in turn is based on the assumption that you know what motivates me.

In a leadership context, this understanding of motivation creates problems:

  • You have finite resources of time and energy, so if you have to motivate me and everyone else, your organisation becomes unscalable and will never grow beyond certain limits
  • You may think you know what motivates me, but you may be wrong, particularly if even I don’t have a clear understanding of what my motivations are
  • What motivates me may be very different from what motivates others, so a one size fits all approach cannot work