In my work with clients, I often hear, “how can I motivate this person to do what they’re supposed to? They’re lazy. They’re unmotivated.” The truth is people are always motivated. They’re just not always motivated to do what you want them to do.

What’s occurred generally is that they’re resistant to the well intentioned but discouraging methods imposed on them in an effort to gain their participation. Leaders must change tactics and make effective transfer of responsibility a top priority. Self-management, initiative and accountability are key and depend heavily on intrinsic motivators – psychological rewards people get from self-management. The four intrinsic motivators are a sense of meaningfulness, choice, competence and progress.

A Sense of Meaningfulness

Focusing others passionately because purpose, vision and intention inspires joy

At Home: From the time my 5 children were young, we created conditions in which they could develop intrinsic motivation, helped them discover their reasons for doing things and fanned their enthusiasm. We eliminated cynicism and discouragement, helped them name their goals and recognize the importance of their roles, ideas and tasks. We looked for whole jobs that would help them feel they mattered and held weekly family meetings where we discussed the needs of all and the ways each person wanted to contribute.

At Work: With clients, the first thing we do is help them identify cynicism and replace it with discussion of vision, values or intention. Without this, the other intrinsic motivators do not develop. Leaders create mission statements to inspire meaningfulness; we help them move from slogan to incorporation of intention, purpose, vision and values into discussions that are relevant, current and meaningful.

A Sense of Choice

Handing off tasks because overcoming healthy challenges and risks is deeply satisfying

At Home: We handed off whole tasks to our children that were significant enough to demonstrate trust in them, gave them opportunities to stretch, have a say in matters, prompted them to think through and respect the needs of tasks and express the reasons they enjoy participating. For example, all of them were trained to grocery shop, plan menus, and cook. As a team they went to the store on their own, choosing the food and deciding how to spend the cash; all helping them to feel powerful, lovable, connected and contributing.

At Work: Recently, exit interviews of several top performers at a local firm revealed their primary complaint; they were not allowed to take enough risks or given enough responsibility to try out new ideas. They felt stifled in their opportunities and growth. We worked with the client management team to help them understand the importance of expanding opportunities and choices so that they met the need and created greater autonomy.

A Sense of Competence

Building skills that allow people to develop a can-do attitude and self-respect

At Home: With my children, I took time to train them in each job or task and gave them the materials and knowledge needed. I provided just enough challenge to stretch them without overwhelming them. I held them to high standards and as successes increased, they grew in courage.

At Work: We help managers to stop exempting, avoiding or rescuing underachieving staff members. They often do this after attempting to teach skills. What they fail to recognize is that coaching in skills is ineffective if the first two intrinsic motivators have not been addressed. We help managers step back, inspire staff to focus on meaning, make more choices, and then get specific about the steps needed to development competency in skills.

A Sense of Progress

Identifying, acknowledging and celebrating improvement, which increases fulfillment

At Home: In our family, we celebrated successes and savored achievement, including small acts of kindness or service. We gave acknowledgements at the start of every family meeting, discussed successes, and made time for end-point rituals such as family fun time on Fridays, celebrating a good week.

At Work: We help school principals and CEO’s to recognize that running a successful organization requires more than recognition ceremonies for major accomplishments and acknowledging a minority of stellar achievers. We help them to keep score and cheerlead at every opportunity in every classroom or staff meeting so that encouragement and awareness of strengths and progress becomes the norm.

Intrinsic motivation is one of the most important “muscles” a leader of any community, organization or institution can develop. In my work, I too often see this task unwittingly neglected or sabotaged, costing untold losses in revenues, missed opportunities and the satisfaction and joy that comes when people are empowered to expand from the inside out. Fortunately we have the key to intrinsic motivation and can apply that key for much-needed change. We want to work with you to help to develop intrinsic motivation.

As published nationally in Women’s Journals, June 2007