Monday, Aug. 23, 2010 | 10:31 a.m.
Throughout my years in business, I’ve found that people are motivated mostly by three things; fear, greed, or passion. People act strangely when they are fearful or have built up a fear of something. They also do strange things when focused only on obtaining money. While people who are passionate about their work also act strange on occasion, in most cases, their motives are clear and purposeful.
Fear. Fear is a unique emotion. It clouds one’s ability to see clearly and make good decisions. It also causes those who are fearful to act only on the fear and it keeps them from pursuing the things they really want. Fear is prevalent in today’s workplace because with the unemployment rate at the highest it has been in recent memory, many workers are afraid of losing their jobs. This is understandable, but what I have observed is that this fear has caused behaviors that are inconsistent with behaviors that occur in better economic times. People who used to be able to make decisions are more reluctant to do so today. People who took risks are now more conservative. The ability to make decisions or take risks is what made these people successful, but today their fears are inhibiting their success.
I learned this lesson myself a little more than 10 years ago. At one time, I was a big risk-taker regarding how I marketed my firm’s services. My life was good and I never worried about whether the risk paid off or not. My wife had a good, secure and stable career and therefore, I never felt the pressure of bringing home enough money for us to survive. That changed one day when my wife left her job to attend law school. I felt the pressure of her not working. I felt that I needed to get every job the firm pursued because I was worried about not bringing a paycheck home each week. These fears kept me from taking some of the risks for which our firm was known. It also kept me from being selective in the pursuit of new work. I became more conservative and our firm lost its ability to differentiate itself from our competition, and therefore, the firm lost opportunities that it once was able to secure. Of course, this result caused my stress level and fear to rise, leading to even more conservative behavior. At that time, I did not see the cause and effect.
It took me two years to realize what was going on and to understand the effects that my fears had on our organization. Once I was able to confront my fear and return to being authentic and taking risks, the firm began to be successful again.
Greed. Anyone who watched the meltdown of the recent mortgage crisis or the Las Vegas real estate boom saw greed in action. Many people were motivated by one thing only — profit. It didn’t matter whether it was right, moral, or sometimes even legal — if it made money, it was good. People acting out of greed often times forget about pursuing their passions. They become obsessed at finding the easy path to making money and in the process, suppress their spirit and passion.
I’m not suggesting that businesses shouldn’t make money or pursue profit. Businesses should make money; money is oxygen for a business. I believe, however, that a making money should not be the only focus or the sole emphasis for a business. Profit should be balanced with community partnerships, philanthropy, employee growth and learning, not to mention great customer service and client relationships. A sole focus on profit causes neglect of these areas which are crucial for a company’s well-being and sustainability.
Passion. Of the three areas of motivation, passion is the only one that can be sustained. Fear will eventually consume a person and there will come a time in every person’s life when they will seek more than just money. But people who are passionate about what they are doing tend to stay passionate for a long time. While their passions may evolve or change, passionate people rarely lose their passion. If the individual passions of the people who work within an organization can be harnessed around a collective vision or mission, the company can achieve great things. Passion cannot necessarily be created, it must be uncovered through reflection, dialogue or through experiences.
Most people are passionate about something. Your role as a leader in your company is to help your colleagues discover their passion and to help them to find a way to leverage that passion in their daily lives. During a lecture about the pursuit of passion to a group of college students years ago, I asked the group to name the things in which they were passionate. Students who responded were clear about their passions and how they were leveraging their passion in the pursuit of their careers. Many students, however, had difficulty with the question. These are the type of people who need our help. One student, jokingly, told me he was only passionate about beer. “How will I leverage that into a career?” he asked me. I responded that he could be a beer distributor, a beer importer, a brewer, a hop farmer or even open a beer specialty store. Don’t dismiss your passions so easily, simply because they don’t fit with your current career or other people’s expectations of you.
What motivates you?
Until next time…