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Motivation, Rewards, and Leadership

The good news is that the world really is all about you.
The bad news is that the world is what you make it.


Here are a few thoughts-for-the-day with which you may, or may not, agree. Regardless of how you feel, I hope you find a moment to stop and think about your beliefs and the basis upon which those beliefs have been built.

1. Employees do not need to be motivatedIn organizational life managers are often charged with the productivity and well being of the staff. It is management’s job to make sure the staff is focusing on the task at hand, and that everyone is sufficiently motivated.

But, is it really management’s job to motivate you? Is the manager the one responsible for each person’s motivation?

If we assume that it is management’s job to motivate us, we assume that we are not inherently motivated. The cause of motivation is outside of us – a gift to be received from someone else. If we don’t receive the gift every day, we will not feel motivated. This belief places the responsibility for the level of motivation squarely on management’s shoulders, giving us someone to blame when motivation falls below required levels.

I suggest that this model is flawed.

Yes, management has a role to play in creating an environment that does not squash motivation like an unwelcome bug. “It is right and human for managers to care about the motivation and morale of their people, it’s just that they are not the cause of it.” (Koestenbaum and Block – Freedom and Accountability At Work)

We are also responsible for our own morale. If we come to work depressed, it is not only management’s responsibility to pull us out of our depression. If we feel unmotivated by our work, it is not only management’s job to detect our lack of motivation and give us a rousing pep talk. We are all responsible for our own morale and motivation.

We have freedom; we have a choice.

(See: Motivation, Vision and Motivation in this blog)

2. Rewards do not explain and drive behavior – The holy grail of compensation has long been “What gets rewarded gets done.” If you want something done, put a reward on the result. If you want to encourage a certain behavior, put a reward on it. The reverse has also been true – if you want to discourage a behavior or result, take away a reward (usually money) every time it happens.

Yes, compensation systems are important. Yes, compensation systems are often designed based on a desire to encourage certain behaviors. No, compensation systems are not successful in creating long-term motivation, and achieving desired results. Short-term results, maybe. But, long-term results, no.

By focusing on money, organizations have found a simple and quick way to push individual performance to great heights for short periods of time. However, it is often easy for self-serving employees to take advantage of these money-based incentives, increasing their compensation at the expense of the organization’s long term health.

For the long-term it’s not what gets rewarded that gets done. It’s what is rewarding gets done. (Katzenbach – Why Pride Matters More Than Money)

As an alternative, treat employees as you would anyone who is actively contributing to the wealth of the organization. They are the ones who are creating the products and services that make the organization successful. Compensation is important, but not because it will change behavior.

(See: Money and Motivation in this blog)

3. Leadership is abundant, not rare – Many organizations are leader-focused. The person at the top of the hierarchy is the fearless leader, and those in the rest of the organization are the followers. Leadership is reserved for those with titles and offices, for those who attend the board or leadership team meetings. Employees are trained to do their jobs, or put through employee development programs to help them become better employees, supervisors, and managers, but they are not considered leaders.

Yes, it is very important for the top leaders to offer a clear vision, set the tone for the corporate ethics and values, keep the organizational culture connected to the realities of the market, and to display the courage to take action. This is a seat of great power that comes with great responsibilities. It is important that these top leaders use their power with care and grace, for they are creating a tone that will color the behavior of others.

But these leadership behaviors are not reserved to only the nose-bleed seats.

Organizations will find that, given the opportunity to take on the challenge, leaders exist at all levels. What is required is for managers and supervisors to create the space for others to take action.

No, not everyone wants to be a leader.

But, people rise to a challenge. If you want to encourage leaders at all levels, you need to start by making room in your organization for people of good character to understand the vision and share it with others, express their ethics and values, touch the realities that define their market, and both see the courage of the leaders at the top, and show their own courage by making choices and taking risks.

(See: A Leader’s Power, Ownership, 100% Responsibility, Changing Minds – The Importance Of Character in this blog)


Thanks for taking the time to read through this blog entry. Hope it sparked some thoughts or feelings about leadership.

If you are interested in more thought provoking reading, the preceding is largely based on the work of Peter Koestenbaum and Peter Block in Freedom and Accountability At Work.

My thanks go to Dr. Koestenbaum for his long dedication to improving both government and business organizations.

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