I am often asked, “How can I motivate my team members to (fill in the blank).” The simple answer is, “You can’t.” Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute, I have motivated people in the past and I have been motivated by someone else in the past. Why can’t I motivate people?” Well, there are two things at play here: inspiration and motivation.  Some of you may think this is a matter of semantics, but it’s not. Inspiration can come both from outside and within someone but motivation is only driven from within.

In general, there are four ingredients for being really successful at anything. One must:

  1. Know clearly what they want to accomplish. They must have clearly defined and measurable goals.
  2. Then know how they will attain that goal. They must have a plan.
  3. Have the requisite aptitude and abilities to get it done. They must have the talents and skills.
  4. Have the passion and the energy to carry out the plan. That ingredient is called “motivation”. All things being equal, the difference between real success and failure is more often than not motivation, or the energy that one is willing to expend.

If we were to select one word to describe motivation, it would be “effort”. Simply put, if you do not show the effort, one cannot say that you are motivated. More specifically, you might also consider that it is “sustained effort” that really describes what motivation is. There’s a world of difference between temporary effort and sustained effort. If we were to write a formula for motivation (one that is very familiar to many of you), it would be:

Inspiration + Perspiration (“sustained effort”) = Motivation

Let’s also consider what motivation is not.

  1. Wanting something is not motivation. These are two different concepts. Just because one desires something, does not mean they are motivated to attain it.
  2. Being inspired by someone or something is not the same as motivation. While a particular speaker, video, etc., may well have kept your attention, opened your eyes, or inspired you, if all you have done is talk about the experience or quote the source, then you were not actually motivated. If you had been motivated, then we would see something else from you; we would see some kind of sustained, goal-directed effort.
  3. Making a resolution is not motivation. A resolution is a want, a desire, or even a wish and making a resolution is definitely not the same as being motivated.

The truth is that we cannot actually observe motivation in others. We can only observe their behavior and infer motivation from what we see them do. We cannot see, touch, taste, or feel motivation. We can only see the consequences of motivation. It is invisible. The interesting truth is that motivation is simply a hypothetical construct or at best, a convenient label that we have invented to explain certain patterns (or the absence of those patterns) of behavior we see in others. What is the pattern we see in others when we infer that they are motivated? We see them exhibiting sustained, goal-directed effort.

To summarize, motivation is an internal state of the individual. It is the source of energy within that provides fuel to get something done. The energy produces sustained effort, and it is that behavior, not motivation itself, which is observed by us and by others. Only when we see sustained effort can we assume that one is, in fact, motivated. Motivation is the fire within.

Were we to visualize motivation as though it were real, we could think of it as a roaring fire or furnace. All of us have a furnace within and it is that furnace that provides the energy to achieve our goals. When the fire is burning brightly, the furnace puts out a lot of energy and provides warmth and heat.

When the fire is not burning brightly, and there is barely a flickering flame, there is not much energy available for use, and there is certainly not warmth and heat.

When one is motivated, the flame burns brightly and they are full of energy. When one is not motivated, the flame is barely flickering and they show no energy and thus, no desire to put forth effort. Everyone has a potential furnace.

Our challenge as leaders is to learn how to light that fire within ourselves and others.

About the Author: Josh Perlman

About MCG Partners

MCG Partners a woman-owned, Greater Boston-based consultancy specializing in executive coaching, leadership development, talent management, and organizational development solutions. We help businesses optimize success through the entire management life-cycle. MCG Partners is also a Predictive Index® (PI®) certified partner.

To learn more about MCG Partners’ services or The Predictive Index®, contact John Griffith at john.griffith@mcgpartners.com or visit mcgpartners.com.