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Do You Motivate By Obligation Or Commitment?


When I sat down to write this latest piece for my leadership blog, I realized that today marks a special anniversary – exactly 6 years ago on this date I took the plunge to begin writing my own blog. Without question, it’s been a long and exhilarating journey both in terms of the evolution of my site as well as in terms of my writing style and approach.

Given that it’s a rare occurrence for this writing anniversary to coincide with the day of the week that I publish my latest articles, I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to reflect on this writing anniversary and what lessons can be shared from this milestone on how we can do a better job inspiring those we lead to bring their best selves to the work they do.

In looking back on these past 6 years writing for my blog, I’m reminded of the fact that as is the case with writing, leadership is a journey of discovery, one that will help you understand your true value and purpose [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

It’s a journey that will often challenge your assumptions of what works, of what it is that truly engages and inspires those around you, and which – if you’re open to learning those lessons – will help you to evolve and grow into the kind of leader your employees and organization needs you to be.

The truth I’ve come to appreciate over the past few years of sharing my thoughts and insights on leadership is that we can’t rely on our sense of obligation – of what people expect from us – to push ourselves to be better than we are today. Rather, what we need is that internally-driven commitment to not settle for the current status quo; that we not look at ourselves today with the belief that we can’t achieve more, or become more than we are right now.

In every successful leader, we see that hunger that compels them to not settle or rest on their laurels, but to keep pushing themselves to achieve even more and in the process, help those around them to become stronger contributors and more valued members of their organization.

These leaders understood that commitment ensures we don’t settle for less because we know we have the power to make things happen [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter]. That we recognize our ability and potential to make a difference, and create a vision or shared purpose that others want to be a part of.

Showing that commitment to make things happen is the key to inspiring those around us to also commit themselves to bringing their full selves to the work they do. Indeed, the drive to do more among those we lead is not dependent on their obligation to do such. Instead, it’s a result of our efforts to create a supportive, encouraging environment where our employees willingly commit their native talents, creativity, and insights to our shared purpose because they see and understand the value in making that commitment.

This also helps us to appreciate the limitations of doing what we’re passionate about. While it is important that we care about the work we do, the truth is that we can’t sustain our level of passion about what we do each and every day we go to work.

Indeed, in looking at my own experience writing for my blog, there are times where my passion wanes and I lack the motivation to put pen to paper to shape and refine one of the many ideas I have scribbled down to explore at a future date. And yet, the reason why I’ve never missed a deadline in putting out another leadership piece to inspire, educate, and engage my readers is because of that sense of commitment that fuels my internal drive because I know I’m creating something of value and benefit for others.

This is why our ability to succeed in leadership depends on the level of commitment we bring to the role [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter] because it’s what we inspire in others that will define whether we are in fact successful. And the truth is we can’t inspire others by sticking to the tried and true; to playing it safe and maintaining the status quo.

We have to show that willingness to challenge ourselves, to experiment and discover how we might improve the way we approach our leadership, and how we can become more effective in creating a workplace environment that brings out the best in those we lead.

Our commitment comes not from what we do, but from understanding why we do what we do [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter]. This is the difference between these two motivating factors. Those things that we’re obligated to do we take on with an appropriate level of interest and drive, but nothing more because we know we have to do it. The things we’re obligated to do are the things that we use to answer the question ‘what do you do for a living?’

But when it comes to using commitment as the source of our motivation, it’s no longer a matter of explaining what we do, but understanding the value, the purpose behind why we do what we do.

If we want our employees to bring their best efforts to the table, if we want them to embrace the challenges and obstacles they face every day in the pursuit of achieving our shared purpose, we can’t limit our focus to ensuring that they are meeting their obligations as employees in our organization.

Rather, to bring out the best in those we lead, we need to support a commitment to do work that matters [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter]. We need to give our employees the opportunity to do meaningful work; work that they can derive a sense of meaning and purpose from so that regardless of what stands before them, they won’t waver in their drive and ambition to transform your organization’s vision into reality.

Studies have shown that motivating employees through extrinsic factors like salary increases, perks, and bonuses have a very short shelf-life. The reason for that is simple – the motivational driver we’re trying to tap into is tied to our sense of obligation. That to earn that pay increase or to get that bonus, we have to make the effort to achieve a certain goal upon which we’ve done our part and can now get our reward.

But intrinsic factors – those tied to our feeling a sense of mastery, a sense of accomplishment and purpose – are connected to our sense of commitment, where we’re not doing it to reach some fixed point in the distance, but because we believe in the underlying idea or purpose that’s behind this effort.

We’re no longer doing it for the prestige, for the power or influence, or even for the bragging rights. Instead, we’re doing it because we can see and understand the value and benefit we create through our efforts and consequently, why it matters that we show up to give our full talents, creativity, and insights to the cause.

After all, it’s our sense of commitment rather than our sense of obligation that gets us to stand up and care [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter]. When we understand the value we create through our efforts, when we can see the connection between what we do and the shared purpose of our organization, it’s no longer enough to do what’s in our job description because now we are invested in the collective success of our organization.

Your employees will challenge and stretch themselves to be more than they are today in order to become stronger contributors to your organization’s shared purpose because they believe in what they do, and they care about achieving the vision you have for the organization.

This, of course, is no easy feat and that’s why to date only a select few have achieved it, which is why we continue to hold these leaders and their organizations in such high esteem. In each case, the leaders behind these initiatives understood that it’s not enough to rely on their employees’ sense of obligation to do a day’s work to ensure their collective ability to succeed and thrive.

Rather, the key to succeeding in today’s business environment is fostering a sense of commitment to do better, to be better than we are today. To believe in our ability to keep pushing further; to savour our victories and recognitions as proof that we are indeed capable of doing great work.

There’s a saying that’s often attributed to author Margaret Mead which goes something like this:

Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

The fundamental truth of not just surviving, but thriving in today’s faster-paced, interconnected global environment is that we can no longer operate from the level of our employees only doing what they’re obligated to contribute.

Rather, what’s required for us to stand out, to become those beacons of success and achievement we all aspire to become is to encourage and support a workplace environment where your employees are committed to doing their best work – their life’s work – as members of your organization because they see and understand the value of why you do what you do.

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