Leadership Motivation: What Drives You?

Maslow-MotivationsDo you really understand what motivates you? What is your leadership motivation? Why are you dedicated to your work?

Ever since the ancient Greeks declared how important it was to “know thyself,” we think we know ourselves, but the truth is few people actually do. Much is hidden from conscious awareness.

Many leaders I know, get caught up on achieving more, doing more, earning more, without understanding their motivations about what drives them. Our motivations are often subconscious, so deeply embedded that we don’t get a good look at them. They are experienced as intuitive, as part of who we are.

For centuries, people have searched to understand the basic drives that are common to all human beings. Which ones are driving us in our daily lives? How are they influencing the choices we make? Here are some of the theories of leadership motivation:

  1. In the 20th century people looked to Freud’s psychodynamic theory for explanations: perhaps we’re driven by sex and pleasure, or we strive to obtain power. But surely there’s more than that.
  2. More recently, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs helped us to understand our basic needs for shelter, food, clothing, ego and belonging. Then he told us that only a few of us would become “self-actualized.”
  3. David McClelland outlined the Achievement Motivation Theory in the 50s which widely was applied to understanding motivations at work including leadership motivation. McClelland’s theory states people are motivated by:
    • The drive to achieve
    • The drive for power
    • The drive to affiliate with others
  4. Another psychologist in the 30s, Edouard Spranger, proposed that we seek to satisfy our interests in six areas: theoretical, utilitarian, aesthetic, social, individualistic, and traditional or religious. While this helps explain our areas of interests, it doesn’t address the underlying drives or motivations.

These are some of the more popular drive theories of the 20th century, before scientists had access to brain imaging technology.

Since then, starting in the 90s, neuroscientists have discovered that most of what we do is decided and acted upon in split seconds, with a large portion of input from our more primitive brain areas.

In other words, we’re more instinctual and less rational than we’d like to believe.

What do you think? In the coaching work I do with people in organizations, this could explain some behaviors of executives who speak and act intuitively, often with dire consequences. I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment.

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