Get Ahead by Knowing What Motivates Others

Jul 1, 2011
5 Min Read

What is motivation and how are we motivated? As a basic definition, motivation is what drives us to accomplish goals. Motivation determines where we direct our behavior. There are many, many different ways we become motivated to act.

Money is clearly a universal motivator, since it provides means to obtain food, maximize comfort, and avoid unpleasantries. On the other end of the spectrum are things that motivate us intrinsically, such as our careers and hobbies. These vary drastically by each individual. Somewhere in the middle is another aspect of motivation: personality-based motivation.


How to tell if someone is motivated by achievement:

  • habitual goal-setter
  • earned mostly A’s in school
  • enjoy and request challenging assignments
  • seek out career paths and promotions for the sake of advancement
  • score high on conscientiousness as measured by a personality assessment
  • enjoy playing video games in order to get to the next level

How to motivate people with a high need for achievement:

  • map out their career path at the company
  • provide them with challenging but realistic goals
  • provide feedback often about progress
  • phrase criticism in a way that illustrates how it is blocking their potential
  • tie promotions and raises to achievement, not tenure
  • allow for continuous advancement at work (not necessarily promotion or pay raise… could also be increased responsibility, more direct reports, title change, lateral move, different role, etc.)


How to tell if someone is motivated by power:

  • first to volunteer for leadership roles
  • desire to hold positions that have a large span of control
  • enjoy symbols of luxury, status, and prestige
  • feel like they are doing their best work when they have an ability to influence someone
  • need to feel effective and as if they are making an impact

How to motivate people with a high need for power:

  • provide public positive feedback and recognition
  • appoint them as leaders when possible
  • let them know how their work impacts others
  • reward with plaques, trophies, medals, etc.
  • make it known to others when you have implemented their idea
  • instead of delegating/assigning, guide them toward making the right decision on their own


How to tell if someone is motivated by belongingness:

  • describe themselves as a people-person
  • consider themselves popular, with many friends and acquaintances
  • have a strong desire to be liked by others
  • feel energized when they can interact with others
  • others consider them a team player
  • they like cooperation, collaboration, and harmony

How to motivate people with a high need for belongingness:

  • provide means for them to network and interact with others
  • always recognize their good work, even it if it is briefly/casually
  • appoint them to roles where they can work in a team environment most of the time
  • provide personalized, subjective feedback often

Perhaps one of these stands out as your primary motivator. Most likely, you are motivated by all three of these to a certain degree. Personality-based motivation is more specific than money and easier to generalize than our intrinsic motivations. It is mostly genetically determined, part of who we are since childhood. The more we can understand what motivates us and those we manage from a personality standpoint, the closer we are to having a more satisfying work and personal life.

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