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The Most Powerful Motivator: How to Inspire Yourself and Others

The key is to motivation is to get people to appreciate and agree with the "why" of the project or cause. Once the purpose of the project is clear, then you and everyone's relationship to the goal becomes more obvious.
11/10/2014 06:57pm ET | Updated January 10, 2015
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How do you get others to do what you want them to do? Generally people and companies motivate with some combination of fear, punishment and material reward. "Do this or else," couched in some more politically correct way is most often used. The "or else" can be a negative consequence and/or the threatened loss of monetary reward, employment, or positive attention.

We also use this aversion-attraction technique on ourselves, reprimanding and threatening ourselves with self criticism to try to get us moving, or promising ourselves some reward/special treat unrelated to the project we are working on.

In business, the most common motivator is monetary, and yet studies have shown consistently that money is not the top incentivizer. What is? It's a feeling of connection, commitment and passion for the cause. This is similarly important for yourself and in relationships; you are more inclined to do something when you understand and are engaged with the outcome.

Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

The key is to motivation is to get people to appreciate and agree with the "why" of the project or cause. Once the purpose of the project is clear, then you and everyone's relationship to the goal becomes more obvious. The north point has been defined; the best way to accomplish the particular mission can then be decided. Establishing a coherent reason gives everyone something they can understand and rally behind.

The need to establish the mission first helps clarify the purpose and to determine the "how". This process will draw in the involvement, intelligence and wisdom of the collective. The entire process will be enhanced by the increased interest and commitment of everyone concerned.

So before you start on a project or even if you are already deeply engrossed in one, take the time to review the objective for the program. Ask the questions:

  1. Why are you/we doing this?
  2. What is the outcome you/we are looking for?
  3. What are the options and ways to achieving the desired outcome?
  4. What do you/we need to have in terms of resources to attain it?
  5. Are you prepared and ready to do what is necessary?

Seek help as needed to answer those questions to your satisfaction; then share your findings with others. You will be ready to explain and inspire them with the reasons, and to enlist their support in achieving the goal.

This same process applies to a task that you have been assigned. Answer the above questions the best you can, and then seek the input from the others involved. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much more buy in you will get from yourself as well as others.

Fresh out of college as a new executive trainee at May Department Stores, one of my least favorite jobs was to count the clothes in the stockroom. The stockroom was like a dungeon, dimly lit, suffocatingly hot, dusty, and thick with cobwebs that hung from the bare angle iron and plywood shelves that stretched to the 20-feet tall ceiling.

Periodically I had to tally the items in the stockroom: dated, musky, plastic feeling sweaters, stiff, scratchy and smelly flannel shirts from seasons ago, and other buying mistakes that seemed to have multiplied since they were piled in the stockroom.

One day an assistant buyer explained to me why it was important to count the items carefully. He said that each item represented a certain cost and stock keeping unit, and with correct accounting of what sold and didn't, we can learn from the mistakes and the successes. That made so much sense, no longer was I just doing mindless work, I was providing valuable information to help the company serve the customers and ourselves better. I teamed up with the other trainees to help each other count and inventory the items; the process went much faster and easier. Clarify the underlying reason for the mission and you will get more motivated and engaged participants. And that's motivation.

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." -- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry