Leadership is really tough. In addition to fighting internal obstacles (silos, turf wars, red tape…), the external playing field is never level. We are often competing against companies with bigger budgets and better connections.

Doing great things, achieving big results, keeping the troops focused and engaged requires a very deep kind of motivation and commitment. No way around it.

Where does your motivation come from? 

Motivation can have very different sources, and not all kinds of motivation are the same.

Where does your drive come from? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What keeps you going when things get really tough?

Understanding the source of your motivation will help you motivate yourself more authentically, i.e., in a way that is true to yourself; that honors who you are and what makes you tick.

Leveraging your unique source of motivation puts the wind in your sails, makes it easier for you to draw on your strengths, and feels more comfortable and natural—leading to a far more productive and sustainable motivation.

The same applies to your employees. Understanding what motivates your employees will help you do a better job of building and sustaining motivation on your team.

Types & sources of motivation:

There are many different types and sources of motivation, e.g.:

  • Passion for the business
  • Discipline, persistence
  • Work ethic, pride in work
  • Meaningful vision
  • Giving your family a better life
  • The thrill of a challenge, of growth, achievement…
  • Passionate about helping others
  • Drive, ambition, competitiveness (love to compete)

This list is just the tip of the iceberg. Do any of these describe your deepest sources of motivation? If not, use this list as a spring board for reflection. Where does your drive come from?

Negative motivators:

People can be motivated by “negative” things like ego; proving yourself to someone who doesn’t believe in you; fear & desperation; insecurity; and so on.

Use these negative sources as an initial motivator if you must (if that is where you find yourself), but strive to find a positive motivator. Depending on your situation, this could take months or years. Over the long term, however, a positive source of motivation will serve you far better in terms of being sustainably happy, healthy, productive, and growing (learning, developing).

Yes, it is possible to drive your career on fear and insecurity, but why would you choose that for yourself? I am not even sure it is a choice you can make. It may be something you are forced into by cruel and unfortunate circumstances. No need to speculate on that here. In any case, I would not want this fate for my children, i.e., a financially successful career driven by fear and insecurity is not something I would wish on anyone—my employees included.

And we all know, of course, from both research and experience that this is a terrible strategy for employee engagement: over the long term, fear and insecurity are destructive forces. Employee engagement, conversely, is all about creating a workplace that builds and sustains confidence, initiative, innovation, accountability (taking pride and ownership in one’s work), development, and collaboration. 

Source of Drive

Reflection: Know thyself: 

  1. Where does your motivation come from; what drives you?
  2. When were you most motivated in your career? How did your motivation drive and sustain you in these experiences? Think of a few stories that illustrate that motivator in your life: where that driver came from; where it started; how it showed up in your life; who was there when it showed up—and what role they played in it. What did that driver look like in action—when you were at your best?
  3. Were these times of your life also happy and productive; and great moments of learning and growth? If not, how can you bring your source of motivation more in line with your values so that your motivation also drives joy, productivity, and growth?
  4. Now think of a few of your employees (or friends or colleagues) who have a different type of motivation than you. How do they differ? How does that type of motivation work for them (what makes them tick; what makes that source of motivation work for them)? What does it take to keep someone like that motivated?


Find a source of motivation that is true to yourself—it will be far more sustainable and it will better support joy, productivity, and growth at work and in your life.


Advanture offers world class leadership development programs in five master leadership practices: (i) employee engagement and retention; (ii) coaching and managing talent; (iii) leading change; (iv) team leadership, facilitative leadership, collaborative practice; and (v) aligning culture with strategy—managing culture for competitive advantage.

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