The business world is fantastic. It's also challenging. Over the course of your career, you'll face ethical, cultural, political, and personal dilemmas in the workplace. You'll work with difficult people. You'll find yourself in compromising situations. You'll have to balance who you are as an individual with what your employer asks of you.
Can you stay true to who you are without sacrificing your success? Absolutely YES.
*** A BIG thank you to my readers now in 75 countries around the world! Wow. ***


Motivation at Work:
Don't Look To Your Boss For It

Does your boss use a carrot or a stick to motivate you?
Is he or she even capable of motivating you?
Turns out, motivating yourself may be a better way to go.

It's easy to picture the scene. You're sleeping soundly, in a dark and quiet room. Your alarm goes off, with an annoying, slightly-too-loud sound. You reach over and hit the snooze button quickly, maybe a little harder than you intended. And your first thought is... "Ugh."  Followed by a sigh. 

You want to be one of those people who gets out of bed with enthusiasm for the day. Instead, you lie in the dark, secretly wishing it were Saturday so you didn't have to go to work. The good news is... you're not alone. The bad news, of course, is that you're not alone.

In a perfect world, you'd be motivated by your company's inspired purpose. You'd be motivated by your manager's intelligence and approach, as well as gratitude for your hard work. You'd be motivated by your peers - for setting the bar high and challenging you to do great work every day. 

In the real world? That rarely happens. And even if it does, research shows that lasting motivation may require something more. We may have to find our own motivation, until there's a fundamental shift in the world of business.   
How do you get - and stay - motivated at work?

Our Source of Motivation

So what motivates us at work in the first place?  History suggests that the carrot and stick model of motivation is the best way to achieve top performance. Reward desired behavior to get more of it. Punish bad behavior to make it stop. This model can be effective for unskilled labor doing simple and repetitive work. It absolutely is not effective for skilled and sophisticated employees doing complex work. Carrots and sticks are no longer effective in most work environments. Employees want more.

When it comes to motivation, most of us want to be valued for a job well done, by people we hold in high regard. Being valued and appreciated inspires us to perform. When we don't get the positive feedback we need on a routine basis, our motivation diminishes slowly, but completely over time.

Most people are also motivated by personal pride and accomplishment from a job well done. The challenge is that most of us are being asked to do more work in less time. We often can't do our best work. As a result, we don't feel pride in the results we achieve. This also impacts our motivation.

If carrots and sticks don't work, and we can't get validation in its place, we clearly need a fundamentally different approach to getting motivated. Isn't that our boss's job?

Isn't That Our Boss's Job?

We all want leaders who inspire and motivate us to perform. Most of us will be lucky enough to have at least one in our career. That said, motivational leaders are becoming harder to find. In today's world, most bosses are so busy that they don't have (or make) the time to motivate employees on an individual basis. They're consumed by their own expanding responsibilities.

Leaders often spend days in meetings, trying to figure out how to do more with less, and use carrots and sticks to drive performance. It's what's expected of them. Many leaders believe that compliance with process and policy, and granting of random rewards, will win the day. It's not that leaders are inept, in most cases. They're just overwhelmed and can't see that a motivated workforce would solve many of their challenges.

The implication for us?  We can't rely on our bosses for motivation. So what can we do, to get and stay motivated at work? We have to find our own source of motivation. We can choose to do three things differently to be motivated, despite our circumstances or lack of inspired leadership in the workplace. We'll be happier and more satisfied as a result. 

3 Ways To Find Your Own Motivation

In Daniel Pink's latest book, Drive, he highlights multiple research studies on motivation. The findings all tell the same story. There are three primary factors that drive motivation and performance of individuals in the workplace:  Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

Pink's intent in writing this book is to educate leaders of organizations on how to create environments that encourage motivation and performance. I hope business leaders read it and act on it. As for us, we can certainly wait for our organizations to adopt these practices. Of course, it may be a long wait. It takes time for concepts like this to mature and become readily adopted by leaders worldwide.

In the meantime, we can use these insights to our own benefit. By incorporating these factors into our day-to-day work, we'll feel more motivated - today - without having to rely on anyone else.
1.  Autonomy: Do It Your Way.
Autonomy is the degree to which we're able to self-direct our work. No one wants to be told exactly what to do and how to do it, with no flexibility to exercise judgment. How much autonomy we have is a big factor in our "engagement" at work. It determines how much we care about our work and whether we're motivated to do our best. Without some amount of self-direction, it's almost impossible to be motivated. 
We tend to think that we have no control over autonomy in our jobs. In most situations, it's not really true. Just because autonomy isn't explicitly granted or encouraged by leaders, it doesn't mean that it won't be tolerated or supported. Most leaders encourage compliance, just because it's easier. (So do most employees, for that matter.) 
When employees show initiative, and demonstrate creative and effective differences in approach, most leaders won't say no - even if they aren't enthusiastically supportive. The alternative is to exercise creativity quietly, in a way that's not visible to others.
What to do:  Embrace whatever autonomy you can at work. Use it to express your creativity in either your approach or work product. More effort may be required in the beginning to find different or better ways to do things. But freedom of choice in your job is very motivating, even if it requires more of you. No matter what, find at least small ways to self-direct some aspect of your job. A unique approach almost always leads to innovation, increased job satisfaction, and more motivation from day one.
2. Mastery: Get Better At Something.
Mastery is the drive to get better at something that matters to you over time. It's why people learn to play musical instruments, become accomplished cooks, or adopt new technologies. The joy is in the pursuit more than the achievement. When we pursue mastery of something that matters to us, it doesn't feel like work even if it's hard. It's play. It's motivating to see improvements over time.
We gravitate toward mastery naturally in our lives outside of work, but do it less often in the workplace. Why?  Most organizations focus on achievement vs. mastery. It's challenging for companies to support mastery. They'd rather have everyone know as much as possible about everything; it gives them greater flexibility. With limited resources, it's easy to see why organizations avoid it. It's also easy to see why employees lack motivation when they're not allowed to master something of interest to them in the workplace. We can only close this gap by introducing mastery on our own.
What to do:  In your core responsibilities, work toward getting really good at one thing. Then work to get good at another, and then another. Challenge yourself without telling anyone else and make it your personal motivation to do better. One of Daniel Pink's ideas is to ask yourself at the end of each day if you did better that day than the day before. It's a great way to motivate yourself.   
Another idea is to identify one thing at work that you'd like to learn. Make it something that matters to you AND provides potential value to the organization. Ask for your boss's support so you can invest some time to learn and practice. It's important to tell your leader why it's good for the company, and confirm that you won't ignore your core responsibilities. If possible, don't define too many terms for your agreement. Once you put a fence around mastery, it becomes more of a chore and less of a motivator. Even if you have to learn something outside of work, but you can apply what you've learned at work, you'll still feel more motivated.
3.  Purpose: Find Meaning In Your Work.
In his book Drive, Daniel Pink states: "Autonomous people working toward mastery perform at very high levels. But those who do so in the service of some great objective can achieve even more. The most deeply motivated people - not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied - hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves."  Employees from all generations want their work to matter more than ever before. It's essential to remaining motivated over time.
What to do:  It's great to work for a company that serves the broader good of society. That said, it isn't necessary in order for you to connect to a purpose in your work. I've written on associating with your purpose before. (Read more here.) The key is to identify who you help and in what way. Someone always benefits from the work you do, either directly or indirectly. If you think about what you do, how you do it, and who benefits from your work, you'll feel greater motivation. This is true regardless of your company's purpose or place in the world. 
More on Purpose:  What's Your Sentence?

Daniel Pink is famous for a challenge he poses to others in the form of a question: "What's your sentence?" With this challenge, he asks people to summarize what they want their life to be about in one sentence. How would others describe our accomplishments and contributions at the end of our lives? It orients us toward our purpose.

I share it here because I believe we're motivated when we identify what we stand for, or what we want to stand for, in our life and in our work. Here's my sentence, at least for now, as an example: She inspired others to find fulfillment in their lives through her written and spoken word. Think about your sentence. It may help you connect to your purpose at work.

Bottom Line

"We know that human beings are not merely smaller, slower, better-smelling donkeys trudging after that day's carrot. We know... that we're not destined to be passive and compliant. We're designed to be active and engaged. And we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren't when we're clamoring for validation from others, but when we're listening to our own voice - doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves."
(Daniel Pink, Drive)

Don't wait for others to motivate you. Find your own motivation in whatever way you can. Seek out autonomy and self-direction whenever possible, pursue mastery of things that matter to you, and identify with a purpose greater than your paycheck. Your performance will improve, your personal sense of satisfaction will increase, and your motivation will sustain over time. All of this can happen without a single change in your organization or your leadership.

It's about you, taking care of you. It always has been. It always will be. Anything else is just icing on the cake. So get out of bed, and get to work.

More soon,

Reference - Understanding The Science

I thought some of you might be interested in learning more about Daniel Pink's discoveries on motivational research and implications to organizations. This is a great visual representation of some of the concepts in his book Drive. This video has had over 8.5M views online. We can only hope that influential business leaders around the world have seen it. If you're a leader, please take a few moments to watch this important video.

If organizations would adopt these principles, and fast, there'd be no need for guidance on how to find your own motivation. It would manifest easily in the environment around you. Here's hoping these concepts take root across the world... soon.

Special thanks to Daniel Pink and RSA for creating this insightful video and sharing it with the world.  To learn more about Daniel Pink and his work, please visit To see more RSA animated videos, go to and search for "RSA Animate" results. Very impressive.