For years, I have heard many definitions of both management and leadership. Most of the definitions of management include the following: control, plan, organize, and direct. Definitions of leadership include listen, observe, dialogue, and support. Well, after reading Daniel Pink’s informative book, Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, I have come to the conclusion that we should all aspire to be leaders and that traditional management is no longer relevant.

“There is a gap between what the science knows and what business does,” writes Pink. And, this gap is fairly wide. Study after study has concluded that when people are intrinsically motivated for non-routine tasks, they outperform those who are motivated through ‘carrots and sticks.’

In one study conducted by scholars at the London School of Economics in 2009, they concluded, “We find that financial incentives…can result in a negative impact on overall performance.” Another study conducted by economists from MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Chicago that was funded by the Federal Reserve System found that extrinsic rewards do not seem to work.

Pink rails against our unwillingness to implement these findings, and, to his credit, offers a way out. His own research concludes that there are three simple ‘ingredients’ for genuine motivation.

  1. Autonomy: This ingredient refers to the circumstances that allow employees act with choice. Consultants Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson have made successful careers by teaching organizations how to let go and allow employees to be their best. They ask leaders to create results-only work environments (ROWE) to maximize employee productivity, employee well being, and (yes) profits.
  2. Mastery: Pink defines mastery in the workplace as “the desire to get better and better at something that matters.” He cites one study of 11,000 engineers that found the desire for intellectual challenge to be the number one predictor of productivity. In fact, the scientists motivated intrinsically filed significantly more patents than those motivated by money. Leaders can help employees work towards mastery by creating clear goals, giving immediate feedback, and making sure that the challenges are well matched to abilities.
  3. Purpose: Our sense of purpose is engaged when we attach ourselves to something larger than the individual. Business leaders must look to connect the individual and the organization to inspiring goals that lift everyone involved.

Moving away from the management paradigm where extrinsic motivation is the rule of thumb to one of leadership and intrinsic motivation may not be easy, but there is ample evidence to suggest this is the right way to go in the 21st century.

For more on this, see Daniel Pink’s Ted video below for more on his latest book.



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