Motivation Leadership

Motivation determines our performance as leaders. This applies to our own motivational drive (the Me factor) as well as the motivational drive of those around us.

In a discussion recently with Themba Baloyi of Discovery Insure we shared the conviction that passion is the core of personal motivation and performance. We discussed the principle that people with passion for what they do, do not ‘retire’. They simply persist in doing what they feel passionate about.

Defining motivation

Incentive, drive, inspiration and enthusiasm are all synonyms of motivation. People’s motivational drives are a lot like electricity. Most of us do not really understand exactly what electricity is, yet we are able to harness its tremendous power in almost all facets of modern life. The same applies to the dynamics of motivation.

Leadership motivation

For a leader to try to understand motivation from an academic point of view can sometimes be like looking for a needle in a haystack. There are a multitude of different motivational theories that can be very confusing. It is difficult and perhaps mortally impossible to obtain a full understanding of the incredible motivational drives of the human spirit. 

Leaders in general want to master principles and processes that work and do not necessarily want to be tied down by conflicting theories of motivation. If leaders in general waited until they obtained perfect knowledge of human nature, they may experience a kind of action paralysis. Our experience confirms that leadership is a profession of its own. Being a psychologist does not necessarily mean being a good leader, in much the same way that being a professional accountant or engineer or a having a MBA make you a good leader. Leadership motivation is similar to the usage of electricity. We do not have to fully understand what it is in order to use it effectively.

We have sat down with many successful leaders at different levels and they may differ sharply in terms of their theories of motivation.  But what they often have in common is a positive attitude and belief towards personal motivation as well as the motivation of others around them. 

Good leaders act on attitude and beliefs 

Good leaders do not wait to act until they have a ‘sure’ understanding of situations, people, choices, obstacles or movement. They act on belief in self, others around them and in universal principles’ or values.

From a leadership perspective relating to motivation we may benefit by pondering three supporting concepts: Instinct Motivation, Reactive Motivation and Pro-active Motivation.

Instinct motivation

All of us are endowed with instincts or drives that generate our motivations. Whether we really understand these ‘instincts’ is not necessarily the point. Great leaders are invariably passionately motivated and they do not necessarily worry too much about the psychological theories behind their motivation. The instincts that drive us can be portrayed in different terminologies but from a leadership perspective it helps to understand that all of us are driven by basic drives or instincts, whether we really understand them or not. This is a fact of life. The truth is that vast motivational powers are tied up in each ‘Me’ in spite of differences in culture and backgrounds. Every day we have thousands of examples of passionately driven people performing the impossible. How many of them really understand motivational theory?

Good leaders grasp intuitively that the Me-instinct in people are supported by instincts to possess, to belong, to move (process) and to multiply in some form or other. These instincts manifest in different ways in all of us. To some their desire or instinct to belong may lead them to sordid associations in criminal gangs or vicious, immoral or fraudulent practices. In others it manifests as the passion to belong with those who bring positive movement in life, in healthy family life, and with organizations that are driven by positive values.

Our instinct to possess is often interpreted in terms of physical possessions and having a ‘fat cat’ status where ‘greed is good’. But the possession of spiritual, mental and emotional talents that bring out the divine potential in all of us is of far greater significance.


We have an instinct to choose and our choices ultimately determine what kind of Me is created. This could vary from the one extreme of a selfish and self indulgent Me to the other end of the line – a sharing, respecting and performing leader who is driven passionately by positive values that moves barriers to potential in self and others. Jesus is a prime example of this to many of us. The examples of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi portray that kind of leadership. Our choices give us power to reach unlimited heights, or give us the power to become evil or something in-between. Our instincts are born with us and they are the core of our motivations in life. 

Our choices nudge us into two motivational categories: reactive or pro-active motivation.  

Reactive motivation

Many of our actions in life are reactive by nature. These reactions may be of a positive or a negative nature and are driven by our believed values. However, persons who are mainly driven by reactive motivations may be situational prisoners. They are mentally and emotionally imprisoned by factors they consider ‘outside of their control’. Reactive motivation is often a manifestation of negative perceptions of who or what we are.

Proactive motivation

Proactive motivation is what drives a leader who is committed to a positive attitude, belief in self, belief in those around him and in universal principles (and values), and with the courage to do the right thing. This is the ABC model for the abundant life proposed by Thomas S Monson spoken of in previous article.

Trust in universal principles and behavioural models that deliver positive results are the basis of leadership motivation. Insight into universal principles also strengthens our proactive motivational ability. The proactive leader is proactive in spite of negative situational influences.

Our pool of motivation

Our challenge in life is not a lack of motivational sources! We all have much the same kind of ‘motivational pool’ to draw from. Our challenge as leaders is the degree to which our believed values are integrated and the extent to which we respect the dignity and potential of others around us. In reality our positive and negative values are in a constant state of war in our inner being. This results in high level of frustrations, fears, doubts that may also express itself in arrogance and misuse of personal power. A person at war with him or her self cannot fully draw upon the capacity of the motivational pool that all of us have access to. A lack of positive motivation is often indicative of conflicting values. I suspect that we will discover one day that we all had a more or less fair access to motivation drives. Our attitudes and beliefs are what differentiate our motivations.


This article appeared in the:

The Workplace

Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Louis on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.




Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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