Content originally published in 2016
I don’t know if you agree with me, but there are some authors and books that it’s almost impossible for you to read just once. I have several books that are already part of my life, of my daily life, as if they were a counselor next door, ready to be consulted. Over and over again I find myself leafing through some concept, grasping more of some long-lasting knowledge or something that can support me before a certain challenge.
These days, after listening to a request from a friend and realizing that his pain touches me, I was forced to lean on one of my favorite “counselors”, and soon afterwards I was flipping through the book – Why do we do what we do? – by Mario Sergio Cortella – one of the best known Brazilian philosophers. I often receive questions from both friends and clients who wish to learn tips on how to motivate their teams. And because of this, and especially the conversations I have, I realize that most of the time we are not able to understand the true meaning of the term motivation. This is normal, because in recent years we have been flooded with lectures and courses on this subject. So, I decided to share here in this space a little of the interpretation I have on the subject and how I use this important definition to deal with people and the teams with whom I relate.
From Cortella’s book I take a sentence that may be the starting point of my understanding on this topic: “motivation is a door that only opens from the inside”. This perception made all the difference to me. It brought me awareness that in fact I don’t motivate anyone. That every person has that strength within them. They have the ability to self-motivate. So when a friend calls me up or when I’m personally with someone and I’m asked how to motivate a team, my first answer is, “Look, motivation is a door that only opens from the inside.”
I think we’re getting two words wrong: motivation and encouragement. You, as a manager, can and should encourage your team. This encouragement, a stimulus, is often important for someone to become stronger in what they are doing, be inspired, be stimulated. But motivation itself, the sort that is the base of one action (support) after the first encouragement, can only come from the individual himself or herself. Would you like to see an example of this distinction? How many times have you not participated in a motivational lecture, or in an action at your business where you spent three days at a resort, at a sales convention, for example, with several “motivational” activities and came back home “energized”, with a full load and with the certainty that, from there on, you would burst, that the experiences you had during those days were all that were missing for you to take a huge leap?
The point is that after the hangover comes reality, comes Monday, come the challenges and that “motivation” is gradually burnt out, until the company fills you yet with another dose of “motivation”. This kind of interpretation of motivation reminds me of the party balloon. On Saturday, after inflated, it is all full, beautiful, shiny. The party is over, on Sunday it starts to deflate and on Monday it’s half the size it was when it was encouraged, I mean, inflated.
But where does the individual seek motivation? Usually, the motivation lies in what the person wants. In what makes she or he feel fulfilled and like it is a big accomplishment. It is closely related to everyone’s purpose and to the result of their work. I see myself in what I materialize. Taking Cortella’s support, we are subjective beings and we need to accomplish something to objectify ourselves, to recognize ourselves. That’s why work and what we do is so important in our lives. That is why people who do not like their work do not do things right, do not recognize themselves in the result and, as a consequence, live unmotivated, needing and demanding at all times “motivation”, I mean, encouragement. That is why this topic is so much present in the pains of many people with whom I talk: “I need to motivate my team”.
But you see, you can even lead a demotivated team and things can even happen. But I believe that the results will hardly be significant. Motivated people and teams go beyond obligation. They seek excellence as the end result. They have the obligation as a starting point, like, this result is the least we have to achieve. As a leader, therefore, it is up to me to encourage individuals to find their motivation. Listen carefully to each person on my team to help them find the work and role that fulfills them best. Encouraging is my role, motivation is their role.
Closing with a joke that Cortella makes with words and which helps me a lot in the distinction between Motivation x Encouragement, I bring the following sentence: “Motivation is the internal encouragement and encouragement is the external motivation”.