George was the smartest kid in senior high. There wasn’t a test or class he didn’t ace. It wasn’t just that he was intelligent, he was conscientious and studied hard. He ended his senior year with the record - which still stands - of the highest grade-point average ever obtained. He was class valedictorian with scholarship offers from several prestigious universities. Which scholarship he would accept and what wonderful things he would accomplish after college were the subjects of discussion in the teacher’s lounge and students locker rooms. Everyone was shocked when George announced that he was not going to college and would take over his family’s small farm. He would farm there for the rest of his life. Why did George choose to become a farmer, and run a modest family farm over assured financial security and probable national recognition?
George was intelligent but not nearly as mentally gifted as Mark. Mark graduated “Summa cum laude” from one of those prestigious universities. He was a mathematical genius and was hired into the military intelligence community as an analyst specializing in encryption and decryption. Mark was flawed, he was continually getting into financial because of his inability to manage his life and his checkbook.
Mark and George are real people and their stories are true as I remember them. Only their names have been changed to protect their identity. Two stories of smart people who never became rich or famous but certainly could have. George had other interests. Fame and fortune did not motivate him. Mark had a desire for fame and fortune but was not motivated to discipline himself to achieve what he was capable of achieving.
We have come to believe that fame and fortune are the principle goals of life, especially here in America where everyone has the freedom to achieve the “American Dream.” As a result leaders - in business, the armed services, and most other organizations - tend to use the carrot of fame and/or fortune as the primary motivator in hiring and promoting personnel. As I was progressing through the ranks of corporate business, I was often offered a title in lieu of salary increase. Fame motivated me as I climbed the corporate ladder. When I reached the top, I found that my ladder was positioned on the wrong building.
Unfortunately, fame and fortune are poor motivators for much of today’s workforce. Motivation has been studied by social and educational psychologists since the early 1970s. Research has found that intrinsic motivation is usually associated with high educational achievement and enjoyment by students. People are likely to be intrinsically motivated if they attribute their personal growth to internal factors that they can control, they believe they can be effective in reaching desired goals, and they are interested in mastering a task. This explains the “Starving Artist” or the writer that continues to write despite having no book sales.
Author, Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us describes how traditional forms of motivation may, in some cases, decrease performance. He cites studies conducted with college students in the United States. The researchers found that as long as the task required only mechanical or routine performance, extrinsic rewards worked well. Higher pay given for higher performance yielded better performance. Reward and punishment motivated the people when they were required to just follow the rules. However, when the task became more complicated and required even a small bit of conceptual or creative thinking, extrinsic rewards failed to motivate and even reduced levels of performance. Higher pay for solving puzzles, for creative thinking, and for more complicated tasks had a negative effect on performance. There was a concern that American college students were not representative of a complete society. So the researchers moved their testing to Madurai, India. The villagers were given similar tests and the results were consistent despite the obvious cultural differences.
According to Pink, there are three major intrinsic factors which have the power to motivate individuals engaged in other than routine tasks; autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
The leader must accept the fact that someone else might do the same task differently. If the organization were to succeed, the employees must be free to perform their tasks with a certain amount of autonomy. They needed to be free to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. The leader is still be required to guide and teach, but not command and control. Creativity and motivation flow like a river. The leader can provide levees to channel the water but should not be a dam which stops the flow. But what happens if the job is really boring? How do we motivate someone? Pink suggests three methods:
- Offer a rationale for why the task is necessary. A job that’s not inherently interesting can become more meaningful, and therefore more engaging, if it’s part of a larger purpose.
- Acknowledge that the task is boring. This is an act of empathy, of course.
- Allow people to complete the task their own way. Think autonomy, not control. State the outcome you need, instead of specifying precisely the way to achieve reach it.
In today’s Post-Modern society, autonomy is a strong motivator. People want to feel they have ownership and control over their lives. They want to control their own destiny. They are less likely to accept authoritarian leadership. But personal autonomy as a motivator is not new. Each of us has a desire to be self-directed. Traditional management techniques demand compliance. But if you want engagement, self-direction is a better motivator.
In his 1985 book,” Tillapaugh, Frank R. Unleashing the Church, getting people out of the fortress into ministry, Regal Books, 1982, Ventura, CA author and ministry leader Frank R. Tillapaugh, describes how his church grew to provide a powerful outreach to his community. When someone came to him with a concern for a certain people group or community, they would often say, “Someone ought to do something.” Tillapaugh would then encourage the person with the concern to research what was needed, what was currently available, and figure out what could be done in the future to provide help. Tillapaugh provided resources and advice, but he released them to start and lead a new program. He provided resources and guidance but gave them complete autonomy. While some of these outreaches failed, many more became successful and expanded the impact of the ministry in the community.
In the fifth grade, Rhonda was an average student, working hard in school. Like most pre-teens it was difficult every morning to get her up and off to school. Then one day she came home and announced she wanted to play the flute in the school band. Up until then she had no musical ambitions other than dancing classes. As she continued her flute lessons, her whole attitude toward school changed. Now she was up early and in a hurry to get off to school. She enjoyed being in the band and growing in her musical abilities. One summer she attended band camp and continued to master her music. Mastery of her instrument and music was the motivator that gave her a new perspective about school.
Rita dreamed of becoming an oil painter but lacked the confidence to pursue the art. An ad in the local newspaper for a class in oil painting caught her eye. It read, “NO Experience Necessary.” For the next several years she was motivated by the challenge to master the art of painting. On each class day, there was hardly anything that could stop her from getting to class. Today, her oil paintings are displayed in private collections throughout the world. She has her own studio and teaches aspiring artists. As she teaches, Rita’s mastery continues to grow. She continues to be motivated as she continues toward mastery.
There are thousands of amateur musicians who practice daily and sometimes play gigs on weekends. Why do they do it? It does not support them. They do it because they enjoy playing and face the continual challenge of mastering their art. It has been said that a musician is someone that takes a $3,000 instrument, puts it in a $1,000 car and drives to a gig where they earns $30.
Mastery is the urge to improve ourselves. It does not matter whether it is playing an instrument, teaching a class, or digging a ditch. Human beings have this deep-seated desire to master something. Motivation to work harder comes from the desire to become excellent at something.
There was once a man I knew who dug ditches for a living. There were some who looked down on him because of his job and the dirt that clung to his cloths after a day in toiling in mud. But I admired him because he sought excellence in digging ditches. He knew the importance of each ditch that he dug. His ditches carried away rain water saving communities from flooding. His ditches provided sanitary removal of human waste which prevented disease and epidemics. His ditches were used to provide fresh water to houses all over town. His task as a ditch digger had more significance than that of many of his critics.
In an organization, there are many levels of workers from the top leader to the person that cleans the toilets. Each one can be motivated if they feel their particular job is important. Leaders must let everyone know how important their particular job will be to the success of the organization. Realizing the significance of one’s position will motivate each one to do their very best in each situation.
But, how does the president of a manufacturing company convince an assembly line worker that his role is significant? How does the chairman of the board of a software company convince the janitor that his job is significant?
There are three primary steps that will convince people that their position and task has significance:
- The leaders themselves must be convinced that their organization has a significant role to fulfill in society. They must understand that it is not about making a profit; it is about providing a product or a service which is significant and meaningful to the world outside of the organization.
- Leaders at every level must be convinced of the significance of their own particular role in the organization.
- When new employees are hired or new members join, they must be convinced of the importance of organization’s products and services, and the importance of their particular role to which they will be assigned. Each one must be convinced to seek excellence in performing his or her function.
If the top managers do not feel the significance of their organization, its products, and services, they should not be filling these positions. If they are just in it for the prestige, money, or power, they will be ineffective in truly leading the organization. When middle managers, production line workers, and janitors detect the insincerity of the top managers, they will not give their best efforts.
Bessie, at age seventy-five, was one of the happiest people alive. Each morning she opened her eyes and thanked God for another day. When you met her on the street she seemed to bubble with joy and excitement. It seemed totally out of place for someone dying of an incurable disease. She had accepted her condition and knew it was only a matter of time when her eyes would be closed forever. She took radiation and Chemo-Therapy treatments regularly leaving her tired and keeping her from even simple physical tasks. One morning after her treatment at the local hospital, Bessie came into my office and literally flopped into the visitor’s chair. There was something different in her eyes today. This was the first time I had ever seen her sad. She seemed almost depressed. My mind began to race with thoughts of bad news from her doctors.
Heaving a deep sigh of resignation, Bessie was very subdued as she spoke, “I have just come from the cancer ward. There are so many patients and families there that are confused, worried, and desperate. It is so sad. My heart is breaking for them and I don’t know what I can do about it. I feel the need to pray for them, cheer them up, and minister to their families. But I don’t know how or what to do.”
After considering her concern, I gave her an assignment, “Bessie, the first thing you need is the permission from the hospital. They have strict rules about who can approach patients in treatment rooms. They have had some bad experiences with some well-meaning people in the past. I’ll call the Director of Patient Services and make an appointment for you. She is the only one with the authority to give you permission. Then explain to her what you want to do.”
A couple of days later Bessie burst into my office with a big grin on her face. “They told me I could do it.” She paused and looked confused, “But, what do I do now? Where do I start?”
We discussed ways to approach the patients and decided to just follow the leading of the Spirit.
After two years of ministry to cancer patients and their families Bessie succumbed to her own cancer leaving behind a legacy of, cancer survivors, thankful families, amazed doctors and nurses, and a treatment room that had been transformed from a dark and deathly cell into a place of hope, peace, and thanksgiving even in the midst of sorrow and uncertainty.
Bessie, at age seventy-five, found significance.
What motivates you? Share in the comments section.