Oscar is eleven-going-on-twelve, sweet of disposition, good with other dogs, tolerant of all people, and about as easy to lead as a chicken. We often walk the Indian Creek Trail just below our home, and I’ve finally decided to take him off the leash – to cease pulling him away from every malodorous scent, and to let him move along at his own pace while I walk ahead, stopping every few strides to encourage him to catch up.
During a recent meander with Oscar, thinking about how poorly I was performing as a leader of a dog, a book I read a few years back (Drive (by Daniel Pink), popped into my head. I remembered that at the heart of Pink’s book was the theory that, for work that requires any form of creativity, intrinsic motivation is far more effective than extrinsic motivation. He further argues that the three nutrients for intrinsically motivated work are autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Not surprisingly, research reveals that most of us really want a high degree of autonomy in our work. We don’t want to be told exactly what to do and how to do it and when to do it. We generally want to understand the desired result and then, after considering how other successful people have approached it, have the freedom to use our own thinking and skills to improve on that process. Taking Oscar off the leash gave him increased autonomy. He got a little better at moving down the trail, and our walking relationship became less antagonistic.
Most of us want to grow in the mastery of our work. This begins with mindset, a belief that we can get better. Mastery requires effort along with the realization that, no matter what the challenge, we can always get better. I’ve concluded that mastery is at the core of my disconnect with Oscar. He simply doesn’t see a reason to master trail hiking.
Finally, intrinsic motivation is enhanced when our work has purpose. Studies have shown that, when one’s job is intrinsically meaningful, the bouts of anxiety or depression are generally few or nonexistent. You can be the judge, but Oscar doesn’t look anxious or depressed to me.
Using Oscar as an example (which makes me shudder), one may conclude that, if the only goal is to avoid Oscar becoming depressed, then it doesn’t matter that my purpose (getting to the end of the trail and back) and his purpose (smelling every stick, leaf, bug, and rock) are not aligned.
But these contrasting purposes are not quite what Pink had in mind. And while he may not argue for perfect alignment of purposes, he would certainly argue that he is using “purpose” in the sense of “meaningful”; that, while autonomy and mastery will foster intrinsic motivation, adding a higher purpose to the mix will inevitably optimize the results of that motivation. This third leg, the sincere belief that our work is, in some way, bigger than us, completes a strategic triad that undergirds the human behavior most employers are seeking.
So, as CEO, you may want to think through how your organization supports intrinsic motivation. And then, if you want a more complete view, ask your employees.