(7) How Leaders Motivate

       The question is often asked, how do we get others to do what needs to be done, and dare hope that they are happy and want to do it?  This is no easy task for a leader to discover how to connect and motivate their followers to make this moment of truth happen.  Let’s see what we can do to understand a leader’s secrets to effective motivation.

            As we discussed previously with regard to the leadership and management puzzle, one definition of leadership is the ability to influence others.  The next step is then learning to use this influence to help motivate others for the intended outcome our organizations have in mind.   

 Psychologist Warren Bennis and colleague Burt Nanus state that power is a leader’s currency or primary means through which the leader gets things done in the organization . . . Effective leaders do not see power as something that is competed for, but rather as something that can be created and distributed to followers without detracting from their own power. (Pierce & Newstrom, 2011, p. 75)

This of course then asks, how does a leader effectively use their power of influence to motivate others to get things done?  Harvard psychologist David McClelland offers two types of dominance theories to address this question, the personalized power motive and the socialized power motive.  Let’s dig deeper into each one.

            We may all be familiar with leaders who seem to always have a need to be the ones in charge, always barking orders.  They are highly competitive and have a drive to always be the one in a position of authority to tell others what to do, and how and when to do it.  This is as if they have this often impulsive need for collecting outward symbols of power (titles) to demonstrate their dominance over others.  Research shows that this type of power leads to submissive and dependant followers (Pearce & Newsrom, 2011).  Some may even consider this the dark side of leadership with motivating others out of manipulation, fear, or coercion.  A follower may feel they have to do something because of negative consequences or punishment, appealing to an individual’s sense of loss and desperation.  How will following this type of leader motivate you?

            By contrast, McClelland offers the positive side of a leader’s influence referred to as the socialized power motive.  This power motivates others through collaboration by investing in the social capital of network and coalitions, to gain cooperation through the power of example and role modeling, to give followers another alternative to consider.  These types of leaders motivate through the power of persuasion.  They demonstrate the benefits of genuine interest in investing in the improvements of others, ultimately benefitting the individual and the organizations that they work for.  These leaders are willing to take advice from experts and input from their followers so that everyone will have a vested interested in the outcome.

The overall goal is that a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’, ‘we’re all in this together’, with a ‘one for all and all for one’s’ shared vision and overall goals.  Research shows that this type of power results in empowered, independent followers (Pearce & Newstrom, 2011).  Within the right environment, under the influence of an effective leader, individuals will be motivated with a personal investment, relevancy, and urgency to want to contribute to this shared vision with a willingness to follow their leader to help them get there.

            The ultimate goal of motivation for a leader is to find this personal connection and commitment of meaning for the individual.  When a leader helps answer the questions:

  • Why is this important to me?
  • What benefits will I derive from this?
  • How does what I do matter?

Then an individual can see and feel how they are connected to the leader and the overall organization.  The leader builds a bridge that connects what an individual may need and want to fulfill their personal goals (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) as well as connect to how these efforts will meet the organization’s needs and wants and organizational goalsHow will following this type of leader motivate you?

The goal is to motivate by building a sense of community where the leader creates an atmosphere where individuals want to truly participate, to help move themselves and the organization forward, not only motivating themselves but others around them as well.  Individuals are desperately searching for how to create meaning for what they do in the workplace.  Individuals who feel they have a voice at the table, feel motivated because what they do matters, not only to them, but to their leaders and their organizations as well.  A leader that can help an individual create a personal vision motivates an individual to not only meet their goals, but meet the goals of the organization.  As a result, a win-win is created for everyone, resulting in an effective outcome for all.  Positive motivation works.


Pierce, J. L., & Newstrom, J. W. (2011).  Leaders and the leadership process: Building self-assessments and applications (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

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May 2nd, 2011 by admin

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