Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work and What Does

Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing and Engaging by Susan Fowler, is based around the following statement:

"The reason why motivating people doesn't work is because people are always motivated. The question is not if they are motivated but why they are motivated.”

For a person to positively impact performance, enduring energy, vitality and well-being, Fowler identifies two significant components of motivation: Self-regulation and psychological needs. 

She recognizes self-regulation as a mindful management of feelings, thoughts, values and purposes at the moment.

Fowler also identifies five main reasons for why people are motivated to do a task or demonstrate a behavior. She states that the more that the psychological needs of the person are met, the more positively motivated they will be:

  • Disinterested Motivational Outlook - You do not find the value in it.
  • External Motivational Outlook - There is an external reason, such as increasing position, power, status or money.
  • Imposed Motivational Outlook - You feel pressure or wish to avoid the feeling of guilt.
  • Aligned Motivational Outlook - You were able to link the task to a significant value. 
  • Integrated Motivational Outlook - You were able to link the task to a purpose. 
  • Inherent Motivational Outlook - You simply enjoy performing the task.

Fowler feels that between these two components of motivation, there could be a more positive outcome for the task and the person completing the task. (See figure below from the book).1


Fowler goes on to explain that the three psychological needs she is referring to are: 

  • Autonomy: The perception that we have a choice and made this through our own volition.
  • Relatedness: Our need to care or be cared about by others.
  • Competence: The feeling of being effective at meeting everyday challenges and that we have a sense of growth and are flourishing.

If these three psychological needs are met, then you are more likely to have a positive impact on performance, enduring energy, vitality and well-being.

Fowler goes on – not only sharing evidence and engaging stories to show how to be in the right motivational spectrum – but also how to help people you lead engage in the right motivational outlooks.

The big takeaway from this book is a quiet coach gets better results than a verbal coach because verbal encouragement externalizes the motivation. In other words, if a coach shouts out, "Come on! You can do this!" Then the motivation, which could have been internalized because they like running or understand the purpose of the task, possibly changes to wanting to please the coach (external). 

This book is for individuals and leaders who hope to find or help others find the optimal motivational experience where they will positively impact performance, enduring energy, vitality and well-being. 

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