Why Are Some People So Motivated?
The October 30, 2006 issue of FORTUNE magazine had a series of articles on the question of what the secrets of â€œgreatnessâ€ are. Geoffrey Colvinâ€™s introductory essay reported that formal, scientific research now shows that repeated conscious practice, always pushing oneself to improve, is a better explanation of who succeeds than attribution to â€˜inherent talent.â€™ (Yes, he discusses people like Tiger Woods and Bobby Fischer.)
This is, of course, the conclusion I had also reached anecdotally and reported in my recent article â€œItâ€™s Not How Good You are, But How Much You Want It.â€
However, as Colvin also concludes, there is a large mystery that remains. Why do some people always push themselves to work at getting ever better, while others settle for competence or moderate improvement? What makes â€˜drivenâ€™ people driven? If the key to individual (and organizatonal) nnexcellence is a greater determination to get somewhere (and that seems to be the emerging scientific conclusion) then can such attitudes be bred in others or must they be ‘found?’
James McNerney, CEO of Boeing, answers that question by saying â€œI do know that thereâ€™s a restlessness in some peopleâ€¦I donâ€™t know if it comes from the toilet training, if your parents do expect a lot of you and youâ€™re always trying to grow and meet their expectationsâ€¦ Another (component) is that success and achievement can feed on themselves. .. â€œ
Next question: Does it come down to the inner motivation that people have, or can a manager bring it out in other people? Can a manager turn an â€œuninspired,â€ â€œnot-drivenâ€ person into an inspired, driven one? McNerney says: â€œexpect a lot, inspire people, ask them to take the values that are important at home or at church and bring them to workâ€
For anyone with a career or interested in business these are important questions. Do you get inspired, driven people by hirinrg well those who bring it all with them (for whatever psychological reasons) or can a good manager create repeated passion, energy dedication?
Iâ€™m torn between the two points of view. It does seem as if the amount of â€œinternal fireâ€ that people have at work (or outside it) is a built-in characteristic. It may be there for admirable reasons (ambition, the desire to excel) or less admirable reasons (paranoid insecurity) but itâ€™s an observable phenomenon that some people have it and others donâ€™t.
But Iâ€™m also reluctant to give up the notion that managers canâ€™t make a difference. As I said in the (audio podcast) interview that I did with BUSINESS WEEK, maybe managers canâ€™t create the fire, but they sure as heck an suppress it if they donâ€™t perform the managerial role well.
So, over to you? Why do YOU think some people are continually motivated to improve and keep trying while others are not? And can a manager influence that or is it inherent in individuals?