Why I Don’t Believe in the Motivation Business as an Independent Coach

Why I Don’t Believe in the Motivation Business as an Independent Coach
September 16, 2021
Table of Contents

Before I became an independent coach, in every corporate that I previously worked or come across, there were always some means to motivate people via promotions, growth opportunities or bonuses. Or the ‘carrot’ as they call it, to get people to do more, churn out more, by dangling a carrot in front of them. On the opposite end, there’s the ‘stick’ or the punishment that can take the form of penalties or warnings.

The message is – if you don’t perform well, you will be out of here. Or at least there will be some unpleasant repercussion. 

Outside of corporates, even when you look at some of the ads we are seeing – all are basically operating on the same theory. Brush your teeth with our minty-fresh toothpaste and get the boy/girl of your dreams! Ridiculous, I know. But we all are part of this and contribute to it in some way, whether or not we know it.

We see this everywhere around us and I’m not saying the intent of it is bad. Telling people the (real) benefits of something is fine. But to portray it as the only way to get something makes it sound like an ultimatum. 

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic

This carrot and stick phenomena can be further explored in what is called extrinsic motivation. When companies hand out plaques, trophies, or bonuses to try and get more out of their employees – which essentially amounts to a subtle form of bribery – these are all known as extrinsic motivators; essentially extrinsic motivation is any reason we do the work other than the joy of doing the work itself.

You might be motivated to do the work because you like the result even when there is no bonus or trophy at the end. But that’s still a form of extrinsic motivation because what you’re seeking is still the result.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, refers to the work or activity that you do solely because of the enjoyment you derive out of doing that activity itself. You do it because it is intrinsically satisfying. You would even do it for free (hopefully you won’t have to, though).

So, when companies and organisations spend resources and effort in creating the environment – by introducing recreational rooms for fun & games or by taking teams for company off-sites for team building exercises – those, I believe, are wrong places to start as it gives you a false sense of enjoyment.

It needs to be about the work, first and foremost. Which is why I believe leaders should be in the inspiration business, not the motivation one.

Are You Laying Bricks or Building a Cathedral?

Have you heard the parable about the three bricklayers? I heard it first when I was working with Sapient, long before I became an independent coach. It goes like this: 

The architect Christopher Wren came upon three men working. He asked the first man what he was doing and the man said he was laying bricks. He asked the second man the same question and he said he was putting up a wall. When he got to the third man and asked him what he was doing he said he was building a cathedral. 

They were all doing the same thing. The first man had a job. The second man had a career. The third man had a calling.

The man who was, in his own eyes, building a cathedral was being intrinsically driven by a purpose. And this is what managers should do for each of their team members – help them connect to that which drives them and inspires them.

As managers you may always be on the lookout for that ideal employee who is creative, hard-working, sincere…*insert relevant positive traits here*. But the question to ask yourself is how much are you able to inspire them to imbibe and live those qualities? If you are able to answer the ‘why’, they will be able to figure out the ‘how’ themselves; much better than you can perhaps because as a senior your skills and ideas may be dated in comparison.

And what if the manager tries everything but the person is still not motivated enough to do the work? Well as the saying goes “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink it”. It’s important to recognize the limitations of each approach. There can be hand-holding only to a certain degree, beyond that it is up to the individual.

Self Start vs Push Start

Sadhguru often puts this question in front of his seekers: “Are you on self-start mode or are you on push-start?” Which essentially means do you have the sensibility to see things for what they are and do the needful or do you always need an external factor to jolt you awake, scrambling around for answers?

One is a conscious response; the other is an adverse reaction. Which do you think is a better manner of functioning?

As a manager if you’re always push-starting things for others, that’s what they start expecting. To avoid the endless loop of this, you should help people connect to what’s important to them and what drives them instead of handing them some of extrinsic motivation and thus getting them addicted to the push-start method. 

It is important to keep in mind that not everyone will be a self-starter, or even willing to be one at the initial stages. And that is fine – our ongoing education system and work culture hasn’t encouraged a self-starting behaviour, yet. Here you can apply that classic 80-20 rule. Even if 20% are receptive to self-starting, it’s a good place to start. And as you do this for your team, make time to do the same for yourself too. 

As an executive coach I occasionally get clients who are not motivated to change. These clients are usually sponsored by their organisation and don’t have a personal hook strong enough to commit to getting coached by their own will. In my earlier days of coaching, I would usually give my suggestions to them as to what to do, what will be good for them, etc. But now I don’t.

The only thing I tell them is this: If you ready yourself, the world is your oyster. In using this approach as an independent coach, I find that people are much more receptive and are more easily convinced. Motivation thus becomes a by-product.

Where to Start?

A few things to kick you off on this approach. This is my subtle way of push-starting, but don’t get too used to it. 

  • Find a Purpose: It doesn’t have to a big purpose! Even the smallest things can be useful in building your cathedral.
  • Find Your Reality: Marshall Goldsmith, the topmost executive coach in the world, has spoken often about how he has collected over 11 million frequent flyer miles on an airline due to his extensive travels. On the occasional flight, he says, there are two flight attendants, one is positive motivated upbeat and enthusiastic – while the other is negative, bitter, angry and cynical.
  • What is the difference? It’s not what the company is providing. Both flight attendants may be making the same pay, with the same uniform, with the same customers, on the same plane, with the same employee engagement program. What is the difference? The difference is not what is on the outside.
  • The difference is what is on the inside. There is no one-size fits all model to finding purpose and drive – you need to explore what’s true to you.
  • The Daily Question Process: Follow Marshall Goldsmith’s ‘six active questions’ that have been proven to lead to higher satisfaction with life. Answer all six daily. You’ll notice each question begins with ‘did I do my best to…’

Did I do my best to…

Set clear goals?

Make progress toward goal achievement?

Be happy?

Find meaning?

Build positive relationships?

Be fully engaged?

  • Seek Help: And in spite of everything, if you’re still not able to find meaning, don’t hesitate to turn to someone who you feel has that drive in their own life. A lot can be learned and discovered that way.

About Simply.Coach

Simply.Coach is an enterprise-grade coaching software designed to be used by individual coaches and coaching businesses. Trusted by ICF-accredited and EMCC-credentialed coaches worldwide, Simply.Coach is on a mission to elevate the experience and process of coaching with technology-led tools and solutions.  

About the author
Executive Coach & Co-founder of Simply.Coach

Recognised as one of the Most Talented Coaching Leaders in India by CHRO Asia, Ram is an ICF certified coach with more than a decade of coaching experience Before co-founding Simply.Coach in 2020, Ram worked across the gamut of organisations, from start-ups through to global MNCs. Having served as VP and Country Manager for Publicis Sapient, Ram’s corporate expertise helps him focus on positive change to empower leaders to reach their goals

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