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I recently attended a training session that required me to pick a topic, develop it and present it to an audience. Deciding on the topic was not hard. Organizing my thoughts and transmitting the proper message sure was. I enjoy a good challenge and this proved to be one. You can guess the topic of course: Motivation.

My approach was, I hope, simple. Before I explain it though, I have an exercise for you. It doesn’t matter if you are a manager or a rep, a senior leader or a first-time one. It still works. All you need to do is think and answer this question to yourself: what is motivation?

Got it? Now google it and see what you get. The first 10 results will do.

If you have the time, browse through some of them. If you don’t, I’ll sum it up for you: they will tell you motivation is basically getting people excited about doing something. There’s of course a lot of approaches: you can work on their desire, you can work on their challenges. You can present a prize to them.

Motivation is mostly defined as a method, force or way to influence or change someone’s behavior towards achieving a certain result. One could say then, Motivation is a form of Manipulation.

That got me thinking. Is that what motivation is supposed to be? That’s not how I feel it when I try to find the energy to go to the gym. It does have to do with changing my own behavior though, (going to the gym as opposed to not going) but it doesn’t feel like I’m manipulating myself.

When I think on how it works on me, it’s more as if I am re-prioritizing rather than trying to convince myself of doing something. I don’t need to convince myself of going to the gym as I enjoy it. I do occasionally not feel like going as it implies waking up really early and who likes that? When I think of it, all I need to do is remind me why I like it and what it does for me. That’s hardly motivational or manipulative.

Motivating your team.

I reckon though that as a manager I need to find  a way to get people excited about doing something and I can’t always use on them the same principle I use on myself. Motivation then becomes a tool I use, a method of different approaches I know I can use to reach out an propose not a goal or a mission, but the path I will walk with the team to get there.

It’s taxing. That’s another thing no one says about Motivation. It costs energy. It takes time and if you are the one proposing it, you become the power core, the energy unit from where everyone else will feed. Through Motivation you try to reach everyone in order for them to produce a result and you become the beacon, always lit, always present.

Motivation to me is not about the result, and not about the change of behavior. I’ve found out that I can approach it better when I think of it as a vehicle or as a journey. It might end up changing a certain behavior but that’s not the direct effect I am looking for, it’s a by-product.

Motivation should not be equal to manipulation, ever. It should not feel that way for sure. It should focus on getting results but not through change, maybe. What if instead, it was through elevation and empowerment? What if we, for the sakes of doing a better job, re-define what Motivation is for us as managers?

Motivation is about empowering people, helping them achieve something and gain a comprehensive vision on that thing. Motivation then, becomes enablement.

That is just a first take, and one that needs a lot of work…but it feels better already. Through the re-signification of the concept I can get closer to what really moves those who work for me, and hopefully help them. Achieving results is our day-to-day job. Liking it? It’s all about understanding what’s there to like and if there is, why not help them see it too?

As a final note here’s an invitation for you to take action: can you write down a new definition for Motivation? Give it a try. Write one, two, or even a few. Try to get to a concept that makes more sense in your mind and then, simply act on it.

If the concept changes, your actions around the concept will change and in consequence…you might get people excited about what you need them to get excited about.

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Also published on Medium.