November 21, 2018

Lesson #2: Motivation — What’s Your Inner Drive?

What’s interesting about leadership is that it’s allure is universal and the desire to lead is within us all. Most of us look up to great leaders like Churchill, Patton, Obama, Welch, Jobs or Gates. In some cases, we even aspire to be just like them.

We need to look closely at our motivations for wanting to be a leader. These motivations need to be pure and not clouded by the potential fame and fortune that usually follows great leaders.

This lesson will explore your inner motivations and how they will shape your leadership style.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivations

Broadly, motivation can be categorized into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic


Intrinsic motivation is what drives us from within. It’s the interest or enjoyment of doing the task itself.

Intrinsic motivation is powerful and long lasting. It’s what you will rely on when no one else thinks you can get the job done, when everyone else is in a funk and your motivation is lacking.

The power of intrinsic motivations is that they don’t depend on anyone — only you. That’s why they are a powerful tool for self-leadership.


Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the individual. It’s the rewards or status that is bestowed upon us by others for doing the task.

Extrinsic motivation requires others and is a lot tougher to muster and get consistently than intrinsic motivators. It’s also a lot less powerful because once the incentives are removed, the motivation goes away.

That’s why it’s vital for self-leadership to truly understand which intrinsic and extrinsic motivations drive you. That knowledge will allow you to navigate the challenges you face and stay motivated.

Different Motivators

Motivation is a personal thing. Some of us are motivated by many different things. Some are driven by money while others want status.

All of us respond to most motivators in some way but without exception, we all have one that drives us the most.

There are lots and lots of motivational factors. The ones presented below primarily relate to what you will have to deal with as a leader.


Do other peoples opinions of you matter? Does guilt drive your decision making? Are you the happiest when people praise you?

All of these feelings deal with acceptance and as social creatures, we humans want to feel accepted.

Acceptance is healthy if you use it as a augmentation to another motivator. If your sole motivation for doing something is acceptance into society, then you may start to resent the very people you want acceptance from.

As an external motivator, it’s a powerful one. No one wants to be alienated from a peer group or society. What’s troubling about acceptance is that it can make us do crazy things.

In a now classic experiment about authority, Yale University Psychologist Stanley Milgram, measured the willingness of participates to shock other subjects. The results were shocking.

Over 60% of participates continued to shock the subject even though they could hear them scream in pain and the shocks were reaching the fatal stage (450 Volts).

The conclusions from this experiment and many others like it shows that most people will go with the norms of a group or an expert. If you are high in acceptance motivations, you may be influenced too much by what others want you to do instead of what you know is right.


As Gorden Grekko’s now famous line in Wall Street, “The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

Money certainly is a strong motivator for a lot of people. It’s an essential part of living in the modern world. Those that have money, usually want more. Those that don’t, envy those that do.

Money does motivate but it tends to encourage short-term, self-serving behaviors. This can be problematic even when leading yourself since if you only look for short term gains, you may never grow beyond short term successes.

If your primary motivator is money, you should explore why (there are some exercises below for that). Early in life, money may be a primary motivator since we are establishing ourselves in our career and households. As we progress in life and career, money should be less and less of a motivator because achievement has given us enough to comfortably survive.


Influence over others is intoxicating. There is something about being able to tell others what to do that motivates us to want more and more power.

Power is the measurement of someones ability to control their environment. By seeking and using power, one can potentially do great or evil things. With power can come fame and wealth — which are sought after upsides.

The use of power as a motivator touches us deep within our need to control our own environment. When leading yourself, willpower is often your most daunting nemesis.

If you seek out power and are motivated my obtaining more and more of it, then look at the reasons why. Is it just because you have a great idea that helps many people or do you want the power to obtain more material things?

Power is tricky. It’s measure and influence can sometimes be hard to gauge and even harder to resist. Just try and say no to a savvy politician and see what I mean.


Status and power sometimes go together but not always. You can have status without much power — just ask the Queen of England.

Status is like fame in that you want others to admire and respect your accomplishments. This drive then makes you want to accomplish more and more.

Status and acceptance go hand in hand. You cannot have status unless you are first accepted within a group. If status is one of your motivators, then you probably like titles and respect from peers.

Status gets in the way when you look down on others with no status at all. Consider this scenario — a job interview.

Let’s say you are interviewing for a job and you meet the receptionist. How do you treat him or her? Are you nice or demanding? Do you look down on them? When the hiring manager comes, do you change your demeanor and kiss up a little bit?

The way you interact with people of lesser status shows a lot about your status motivations. If you tend to Kiss up and Kick Down, then status matters to you.

Great leaders never kiss up or kick down — they treat everyone with respect and reverence. If you tend to behave this way, you need to break the habit — it’s career limiting and people can see right though it.


Curiosity can be a strong motivator. Creative types, scientists and engineers all seem to have a curiosity streak.

Being curious means you are open to new ideas. It also means that you are open to being wrong and adjusting your mindset.

Curiosity as a motivator usually takes the form of solving a complex problem. The thrill of exploring the problem, experimenting and discovering the answer is what drives people to work long hours, sometimes without pay, for the satisfaction of discovery.

People that use curiosity as a motivator will work harder than anyone to discover the solution.

If you have a lot of hobbies or love to learn new things, then your curiosity drive is high, which is a great leadership trait.


Mother Teresa had a purpose. Martin Luther King had a purpose. The guys that Ran the Sahara had a purpose.

Purpose is such a strong motivator that people will mortgage their homes, sell their belongings and live a sparse life to pursue what they believe in.

A purposeful life is probably the best example of an intrinsic motivator and can sustain someone forever. People that put a high value on social justice, fairness and compassion are driven by purpose.

Finding a purpose to our lives is something that every human wants. It’s engrained in our DNA to want some sort of meaning to our lives.

Once you find your true purpose, it will motivate you for as long as you live. It will sustain you through the darkest times and sweeten the joys of life.

Leaders that have purpose will attract supporters like bees to a flowers nectar. Most of us just cannot resist the passion and commitment that a purposeful leader exudes.

Motivation is a Continuum

Like you, not everyone is motivated by the same things. In fact, motivators can change dramatically over time. Usually, this follows the natural cycle of life where were want acceptance and money when we are young and then gradually move to status and purpose later in life.

Knowing what motivates you, at any one moment, will make it much easier to breakthrough your life’s challenges and understand what motivates others.

Take-a-way: Find your life’s purpose and you will stay motivated forever.

Things to Ponder

  1. Write down a list of things that motivate you. Rank them from highest motivation to lowest. How do they fit into the framework above? Write a sentence or two about why it’s motivating.

  2. Repeat number 1 above but this time, list what demotivates you.

  3. Compare the two lists above. Are there any of the motivating/demotivating items opposites?

  4. If you never had to worry about money, how would you spend your time?

  5. What’s the first thing(s) you notice about someone you first meet? Write these things down and then categorize them by the motivators above. Which motivator comes up more often? How does that compare to the list in question 1? What you look for in other people is usually something you look for in yourself.

  6. How often do you discover new things? What was the last new thing you discovered? How did you discover it?

Exploring Further

This post is part of a series called Leading from Within, a FREE course on how to lead your most important supporter — you. If you landed here via other means (like Google, Twitter or a friend), you can learn more about the course and sign up here.