Find speakers by:
Request more info

The 4 Myths of What Motivates Us

The 4 Myths of What Motivates Us

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton are authors of the New York Times bestselling books The Carrot Principle and All In. Their books have sold millions of copies worldwide and they’ve appeared on numerous national media outlets such as The Today Show, 60 Minutes, CNN, as well as in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, among many others. In their new book, What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions to Work (on store shelves today!), Adrian and Chester help readers align the work they do every day with what truly motivates them. In this article below by Chester Elton, he looks at the myths of motivation:

What would make you happier at work? Ask many people, and they’ll say more money. Ask most business authors and they’ll recite a list that includes everything but money. So, who’s right?

After studying 850,000 people over the past decade, here’s what I’ve found: All of us host a unique blend of motivators, core drivers that should guide us in sculpting the work life that’s right for us. Some people are indeed driven by money, while others are motivated by using their creativity or developing others or solving problems. The fact is we are each driven by a unique blend of motivators.

Frankly, it’s hard to self-diagnose ourselves when it comes to motivation; human psychology is complex. There’s no WebMD to plug in our myriad hopes and worries, passions and frustrations. But while what motivates us is complicated, the prevailing wisdom about the subject has been marked by an unfortunate set of oversimplifications and myths. Here, I try to debunk just a few:

Myth #1: Money is not a motivator.
The Truth: It is for some.

John D. Rockefeller, at one point the world’s richest man, was asked by a reporter: “How much money is enough?” He responded, “Just a little bit more.” He had more money than he knew what to do with, and he was driven by what? Making more! After in-depths studies for our new book What Motivates Me, we can assure you that a portion of the working population is indeed motivated by money, and they are not all greedy or hedonistic or poor. Professor Steven Reiss of Ohio State University, a Yale-educated PhD, explains, “Individuals differ enormously in what makes them happy—for some, competition, winning, and wealth are the greatest sources of happiness, but for others feeling competent and socializing may be more satisfying. You can’t say some motivators, like money, are inherently inferior.” For many people we interviewed, how much they earn is a confirmation of their personal value and their contributions’. Others see compensation as a source of validation or a source of freedom and empowerment.

Myth #2: Fear is the biggest motivator.
The Truth: Short term yes; long term no.

You may assume that in this enlightened age no manager could think that fear works, but every year I’m asked to work with a bevy of leaders who really do believe the best motivators are negative: threats, withholding rewards, pitting teammates against each other, and so on. Our research team uncovered some intriguing insights into the psyches of working individuals; most fascinating was the set of 23 positive workplace motivators that drive each of us. Yes, each person can be influenced by negative motivators short-term, but those never drive deep satisfaction and engagement in our work. What creates high performance over time are positive concepts: a chance to excel, serving others, working with a great team, recognition, making an impact, having fun, and so on. As we spoke with one hospital administrator about this, he reached an epiphany: “What motivates a labor-and-delivery nurse is vastly different from what motivates an emergency room nurse or an oncology nurse, but we’ve been treating them all the same—they have all been ‘nurses’ to us. We need to give each nurse specific assignments they’ll find motivating.”

Myth #3: Happiness is climbing the corporate ladder.
The Truth: Not for most people.

Coming out of college, there are very strong societal pressures that make us believe that promotions and job changes will make us happy. After all, we’ll have more power, wealth and importance. So instead of following our passions, we take the safe path up the mountain of achievement. While this may be rewarding for some—those driven by ideas such as ownership, money and prestige—it won’t be for the majority of individuals driven by other motivators. As we’ve spoken with hundreds of leaders over the past few years, we’ve found the savviest are realizing the power of individualized motivation, and are shaping their employees’ roles and goals by asking their people to take control of their own career development. It’s a refreshing change in corporate leadership: putting the impetus on employees to come up with their own development plans and then working with them closely to ensure they have the right assignments, training, and opportunities to grow where they are most passionate and where the organization needs the most help.

Myth 4: I’ve always been motivated by _________ (fill in the blank).
The Truth: Motivations change as we age.

Unlike our personalities that are largely formed when we are children, and strengths that often remain more constant through life, motivations usually change with our age and station in life. What motivates someone just graduating from high school or college can be quite different when she has a few kids at home, or when those kids have left and she is perhaps nearing a second act in her career. For instance, our research has shown a large number of people start out in life driven to be regularly recognized, make a good wage, and achieve a prestigious high-level position, but as goals are achieved or life situations change, so do their motivations. Some have children they want to spend more time with, others are more determined to do work that contributes to a noble mission.

The bottom line: If we want to be happily engaged in our work and performing at our fullest potential, we’ve got to look inside ourselves, to understand what truly motivates us. We can’t rely on what others think we should be doing, or be enslaved by preordained notions of what the world says motivates us. All of us host a unique blend of motivators, core drivers that should guide us in sculpting the work life that’s right for us.

By Chester Elton/September, 2014