The Wrong Things May Be Motivating You at Work

Abundance Accountability Personal leadership Respect


Story: If a dear friend told you the primary reason they stay with their partner is because the inertia related to the belief of it being easier to stay than go, or for primarily economic and/or emotional reasons, you would likely have reason to be compassionately concerned about the health of their relationship. How does this relate to work and culture?

Inertia pressure (an oxymoron) motivates us to do something today, essentially because we did it yesterday. In cases of inertia, people get into such a rut that they almost lose track of why they even do what they do at work. Emotional pressure happens when emotions related to self-perception or judgment cause us to take certain actions. Guilt, disappointment and shame are some of the “big emotional bullies.” Staying at a job you detest because of what others may think is an example. Economic pressure motivates by encouraging us to seek rewards or avoid punishment. Many employees, especially executives, often work life-crushing hours to earn a bonus, get a promotion, or simply keep a job.

Key Point: Many traditional organization cultures and neanderthal leadership systems are built on the false foundation of leveraging these indirect motivators. For example, “if you don’t pick up your performance, you’re going to get fired and good luck getting another job at your age, putz.” “You are only half as good as Jane. She kicks your butt. I don’t know how you look in the mirror.” “Just shut up and punch your time clock. If we wanted you to think, we’d make you a manager.” Ok, these hypotheticals are a little harsh, but do remain the MO in many workplaces.

In their very important book, Primed to Perform, my friends Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor point out that leveraging these indirect motives can be problematic. The more important they are for why people are working in an organization, the more damage they can cause an individual, team and overall culture. The summary note from Doshi/McGregor is that when motives aren’t directly connected to work, they actually reduce performance. More specifically, inertia, emotional pressure, and economic pressure are indirect motivators that can have this effect.

Lead Yourself Move:

  1. Ask yourself honestly, how much you are working because of one or more of these motives? If they are the primary drivers versus your ability to flourish and contribute to a purpose you care about, and advancing your personal potential, your situation is NOT sustainable. Something will negatively go down the drain, and it’s likely to be your wellness.

Lead Others Move:

  1. Assess how much these indirect motives exist in your team and/or organization. Read or listen to Primed to Perform for research driven guidance on how to minimize them and better apply powerful positive motivators. P.S., I’ve put this book on the “must read” list for the MBA class I’m teaching this winter.

The Right Reasons in Personal Leadership


One Millennial View: So many success stories seem to sprout from passion oriented projects, and I’m not talking about celebrity chefs, rockstars or Hollywood actors. From my old college buddy who built an award winning brewing company, or the guys that started MVMT Watches, to Ty Haney’s explosive growth of Outdoor Voices; the common ground seems to exist in the personal drive and dedication involved in their professional missions. While there was no doubt hardship, stress, and lots of emotion, it created positive motivation instead of inertia, that in turn has led to financial rewards instead of economic pressure. We millennials need to be reminded to deeply analyze what we love to do, and seriously contemplate why we may not be taking steps towards doing it.  

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis