Employee Motivation: An Essential Leadership Skill

A good leader needs to do more than develop his or her own skills. Leaders must also remember that they are leading individuals, rather than a number of teams. People need to be motivated and encouraged to challenge themselves and give their best, so leadership development should focus on helping managers to understand why people work best when they motivate themselves.

Motivation Is At The Core of Behavior

Motivation is the driving force behind the way we behave, but harnessing it to create an effective workforce is not always straightforward. Theories about how best to motivate workers have changed significantly over the last century, from Francis Taylor's suggestion that money was the main motivator for workers, to the ideas of BF Skinner's behaviourism, which describes motivation in terms of external systems of rewards and punishments. These theories often led to the assumption that managers needed to manipulate the working environment in order to motivate the right kinds of behaviors. However, by the 1960s, Maslow's hierarchy of needs was identifying the internal motivators that make individuals act, including the ultimate motivator that drives people when all of their basic needs have been met: self-actualization, the drive to fulfil one's potential. Since then, the idea that people can motivate themselves has changed the way successful managers approach leadership. Employees are no longer treated like unthinking machines, to be pushed or rewarded into compliance, but rather as thinking individuals who want to see that their work matters.

People Work Best When They Motivate Themselves

The idea that workers could be encouraged to motivate themselves was further developed in the Self-Determination Theory, which was based on research that showed people were inherently motivated to work effectively and efficiently. The role of the leader was not, therefore, to coerce workers into behaving against their natures, but rather to create an environment that cultivated this internal motivation. Employees who were driven by internal, autonomous motivation, were completing tasks that they found interesting or worthwhile, rather than working under the pressure of externally controlled motivators such as financial rewards or punishments. It was not how much people were being paid or how strictly the workplace was regulated that determined how hard employees were working.

What Do Leaders Need to Know?

The skill of harnessing this internal motivation to make workers both productive and happy is an essential part of the leader's role. More conventional motivators such as bonuses or disciplinary procedures may still have their place, but it is important to realize that they have their limitations. Workplaces that depend on these external motivators will tend to be less flexible, innovative and effective, and dissatisfied employees who feel trapped in the system are more likely to leave the company. People can feel less motivated under these conditions, so that offering a greater financial reward can actually reduce a worker's internal motivation for a task they used to find interesting.

Effective leaders should instead focus on fulfilling three basic needs that can keep workers' internal motivation strong: competence, relatedness and autonomy. People want to feel that they are competent, effectively mastering the tasks they perform, but they also need to see that their work is meaningful, understanding how it relates to the bigger picture. It is also important for people to feel autonomous, that they are choosing to complete the work rather than being forced into it. Leadership and sales management training needs to teach people how to create self-motivated workplaces, where satisfied workers can develop their skills, think for themselves and understand why their work matters.

Source by Alison Brattle

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