Leadership Lessons: Success through motivation

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Leaders are in a constant struggle to determine how to drive people to feel personal satisfaction from accomplishing their job resulting in highly productive workers. One concept to accomplishing this goal comes from author Dan Pink in his book Drive. He investigates the relationship between high job performance and worker satisfaction through internal and external motivation methods. Pink concluded that managers who utilize both incentive and fulfillment motivation tools are able to guide their personnel to a sense of internal self-accomplishment.

Incentives are easy to recognize and typically easy to use as most have experienced this type of motivation throughout their life. Incentives are comprised of both positive and negative feedback or consequences. The understanding is that if someone performs up to and beyond the standard, positive consequences are the result. An example of this are the awards bestowed upon top performers. On the other hand, poor performance leads to negative consequences, which most learn at a young age, and all Airmen learn in Basic Military Training. During training, no matter what happened, one was always in the wrong. Everything from the shoes on our feet to the look on our face needed to be fixed, but the motivation to exceed to either avoid punishment or obtain reward forced each individual to correct any wrongdoing. Motivation through incentive is a powerful tool, but must also be utilized appropriately. For instance, if a leader gives everyone an award, or punishes for all things, the impact may be diminished, and personnel become desensitized to the true meaning. Military leaders are well versed in the art of extrinsic motivation, but the true test of a leader comes in the ability to find ways to intrinsically motivate their personnel.

Intrinsic motivation is the idea that a person can be inspired to accomplish a task fueled solely by an internal need to accomplish something typically resulting in self-fulfillment. Author Dan Pink states, "We don't always have to entice people with a sweeter carrot or threaten them with a sharper stick." Everyone in some degree or another is internally motivated and leaders don't always have to use external factors to get people to do things. If Air Force leaders employ techniques to drive inspiration, people will strive for excellence and reach high levels of performance all on their own. I experienced firsthand the power of intrinsic motivation while playing football at the Air Force Academy. The football coaches had a talent for bringing out this type of drive in a player. Service Academy football players are constantly outmatched by speed, strength, and size in almost every game, but continually manage to hold season records with nine and ten wins. How is this possible? The reason is because the coaches are able to harness each player's ambition to succeed and the sense of a job well done. Motivating people to accomplish a task through a sense of fulfillment is the most effective way to render extraordinary performance. Although no easy task, leaders can harness a person's internal drive by utilizing different methods learned through experience and trial and error with the understanding that everyone has the innate desire to learn and improve.

In conclusion, Pink writes, "not all problems we face in the 21st century can be solved using the same outdated principles that we have been taught and grown accustomed to over the years." Therefore, effective leaders must have the ability to consistently move people to action by understanding the value of appealing to a person's internal and external motivation. External motivation is easily applied, and when utilized appropriately is a powerful tool to guide and motivate. When combined with intrinsic motivation, the most difficult to harness, the end result is something even greater: self-fulfillment resulting in long-term highly productive personnel.