Times of transition are tests of our motivation to do well.
Feeling alienated from what is the status quo and predictable creates stress that can demotivate us. It can cause us to crawl into an emotional protective place, shut other people out, and stop us engaging in the challenges that are before us.
View motivation primarily as emotion and this kind of situation occurs.
Instead, motivation is a mindset that becomes embodied in us as a discipline of focused action. When we are properly motivated, we can become rock-steady through times of change.
To understand the source of motivation from this perspective, we need to first look at the desires that support our motivation.
We have all sorts of desires. Some are cravings, like for our favorite food, or signals from our body that we need some rest. These are not the desires that I’m talking about. Instead, I am referring to the desires that connect our mind, our emotions, and our body together as a whole.
We feel it, but it is more than a sensation. It has an empowering force to it. Some of these desires energize us. Some bring calm. Regardless, they focus us on the what we desire in the situation before us.
There are three desires that I have found to be the source of human motivation.
The Desire for Meaning
We choose a particular path rather than another because we see it as meaningful. We follow a particular author or podcast because the message touches us with consequence, authenticity, and truth. Meaning in this sense is the recognition of the values that are central to our perspective on life. The extension of these values leads us to take action to fulfill our purpose.
Meaning of this kind is what transforms a person to take on some great endeavor, like to create a new company or prepare for a hundred mile journey on foot through the mountains. Meaning of this kind wakes us up, points us in a specific direction, and off we go. This understanding is the motivation of purpose.
The Desire for Healthy, Happy Relationships
We also have a desire for relationships that are healthy and happy. This need is one of the most challenging aspects of human life. Living in a very individualistic world where many of our relationships are merely transactions of one sort or another, it is difficult to believe that we can have relationships that are healthy and happy.
Like many people, I once was married. My marriage didn’t end with anger, but rather sadness and loss. The path to its end was slow, not quick. Fast declines are more easily spotted and addressed. As two people drift apart, the desire for a healthy, happy relationship goes with it.
The same thing happens in business. Partners over time focus less and less on their relationship, and more on the operation of the company. Then one day they realize that their perception of their partner and their business is no longer a shared one. It may not be contentious, but it isn’t a happy one either.
As employees, we join a company trusting that we’ll find our relationships with co-workers healthy and happy. No one likes to work in a toxic environment. And yet it happens.
Having worked with organizations where the motivation to maintain a culture of trust and respect was gone, it meant that each person no longer shared a common purpose for their work in the company. Instead, their goal was to get through the day with as little discomfort and anxiety as possible.
No one plans for their organization to be like this. They also rarely plan for the relationships within the company to be healthy and happy. They may value respect and trust. However, they turn out to be just words, rather than an intentional motivation to be a healthy, happy company.
The Desire to Make a Difference that Matters
The desires for meaning and healthy, happy relationships are deeply interconnected. They are the profoundly human parts of a business.
We are not machines. We may desire to do excellent technical work. We want to be proud of the outcome of our efforts. It isn’t just that we don’t want to be embarrassed by the quality of our work. We want it to matter.
It matters because we want our sense of purpose as individuals to connect well to the company’s purpose. Without that connection, motivating people becomes more difficult.
Motivation is not an emotion. It is a mindset expressed in a focused intention to achieve a desired purpose. To grow and strengthen, it needs structure. For most people, this structure is a business or occupation where we spend a third of our life each week.
A structure that supports motivation is one where the individual is both supported in a secure environment and is free to pursue their desire to make a difference that matters. This kind of structure is the kind that I describe in my book Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative to Ignite Change.*
Motivation in a Time of Transition
Creating a structure for motivation is an essential part of being an organizational leader. The question may cross your mind, “Why is this my responsibility? I thought people are supposed to motivate themselves.”
It’s true that people need to motivate themselves. It is hard to instill that desire in a person who refuses to be motivated. For this reason, creating an environment that supports the three desires is critical to a well-functioning organization.
Times of transition are inherently stressful on people. Stress is not just unhealthy for the individual, but it has a detrimental impact on an organization. It makes it more difficult to address the challenges of change. People become resistant to moving in a different direction. They often do things that make the organization less resilient in the midst of a significant transition.
In effect creating an organizational environment that supports people in their desire to find meaning, have relationships that are healthy and happy, and be a place where their work makes a difference that matters is creating a resilient, focused, agile organization. The benefits grow exponentially when motivation shifts from an emotional effort in a time of crisis to the practiced discipline of engagement in the shared purpose of the organization. It becomes a win-win for everyone.
*Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative To Ignite Change is available for presale at Amazon.com and will be released September 18, 2018.