The Single Most Important Element In Motivating Anyone To Do Anything

Posted on Posted in Managing Beyond the Ordinary

In the realms of management, negotiations and life in general, motivating others is an important ability that is worth developing.  But the simple fact is that over the last several decades, the concept of motivation has been muddled with a combination of wishful thinking and empty platitudes.  Today, for example, we hear such meaningless silliness as “There ain’t no I in TEAM!”  Indeed, a team is always composed of nothing but I’s.  A truly great motivator is always on the lookout for helping team members find how to fulfill their personal (or I) goals through reaching the team goal.  A simplistic ineffectual motivator will keep driving home the point that a member’s pursuing of a personal goal is counter-productive and anti-team.  This is sad, but all too often true.

The fact is, motivating others is possible when that person is shown that doing what you want them to do is beneficial to them and their reaching their own goals than not doing it or doing something else.  And, as I say, it is an ability or skill if you prefer, worthy of developing.  But, you must get passed this notion first or you will never get out of the gate let alone gallop down the track to motivational success.

There are three important elements to motivating anyone; yourself or others.  Here I will address the first and most important.  It’s most important because you have no value in even thinking about the next two elements if this first condition isn’t met.  That element is simply this:  you must see value in doing what is being proposed.  That’s it.  See how easy that was?  Easy?  Well, easy to say but very difficult to do, especially when you (as Freud would have said) project onto others what you think is a value in the endeavor.  This value must be owned and perceived to be owned, by the person being “motivated”.

Here is where the muddle-headed thinking plays its role.  Many believe that people will do things that are not of value to them, but only of value to others, and so (again using Freud) projecting a shame or guilt motive to goad the other to act in a manner that seems to be counterproductive to their own ends.  In psychology, we call people who do make decisions that are counter to their own best interests “self-defeating”, as in Self-defeating Personality Disorder.  I made this point in front of about 350 people in an audience in Dallas and a fellow sitting in a seat on the center aisle stood up and shouted at me that I was a crackpot and completely wrong.  I asked him how so and told me that there are wonderful giving people, altruistic and charitable people, who do things and give things with nothing in it for them at all.  He called them selfless and caring.

Standing on a stage being dressed down by an audience member sounds like an awful experience, but I assure you, this was a moment that made my lights shine even brighter.  I asked him, “why would anyone give money to a charity?”  His reply was that it was the right thing to do for good and caring people.  I certainly agreed with that.  I then asked, “So, it’s the right thing to do so someone who does it wants to do the right thing?”  He concurred.  “Going further, to not do so when you know or believe it’s the right thing would be to do something wrong and you wouldn’t want to do that, right?”  Again, agreement.  “So what you just told me is that a seemingly “selfless” act is really an opportunity to feel good about yourself for doing the right thing or avoiding feeling bad or guilty for not doing what you believe is right, correct?”  Silence.  “Based on what you just said, anytime anyone does anything, it is impossible to separate out any kind of personal fulfillment or joy or pain avoidance, no matter how altruistic or charitable it may or seem to be, correct?”  I think he said “ummmm”.

Of course, this isn’t to say there isn’t value in doing something some might call selfless, but there is no such thing as a truly selfless act.  There is no such thing as an action one could, would or might take wherein there isn’t “something in it for them.”  It’s impossible and there is nothing wrong with it.  A selfless act or a selfless life is simply a way for some who may be religious, guilty, shamed by his own wealth or whatever else, to feel as though they are doing the right thing, feel superior to others, self-aggrandized or some other sense of satisfaction, even if it is a nice thing they did.  This is just as true in a team environment as it is in any other.

It is critically important, when you are trying to motivate others to act, to help elucidate what value to that person there might be in doing as you ask.  Once a person sees that value, understands it, fully appreciates it and fully believes it, you no long have to ask them to act, you won’t be able to stop them.

Until next time,

Have a truly positive day.


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