I was about 22 years old. When the woman at the podium spoke that day, a fire ignited in my soul.
I got twitchy in my seat; I literally could not sit still. My notebook almost caught fire from the friction of my pen moving at light speed across paper. I wanted to capture every insight, every bit of that flame that was growing in me. I believed I truly could make our world a better place. My actions and choice to lead well could make a difference.
That moment was a key part of my story and what makes me tick, still, to this day.
Great leaders move us. They speak to something deeper than dollars, widgets and profit margins. Great leaders inspire us, to a better version of ourselves driven to achieve a higher purpose.
If there is one trait that virtually all effective leaders have, it is motivation. What drives them is not the external factors of a big salary or status and power that come with being successful. What drives them is internal. It is relishing achievement for achievement’s sake.
In the last two columns we have deconstructed two of the five pillars of emotional intelligence. So far we have examined self-awareness and self-regulation.
To quickly review, we took a look at the necessity and value of emotional intelligence at work. Daniel Goleman, the pioneer of emotional intelligence, studied the factors that result in highly effective leadership and discovered that emotional intelligence proved to be twice as important as technical skills and IQ. What are these components of our emotions we need to be in touch with?
- Self-awareness: knowing your strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and impact on others.
- Self-regulation: controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses and moods.
- Motivation: relishing achievement for its own sake.
- Empathy: understanding others’ emotional makeup.
- Social skill: building rapport with others to move them in the desired direction.
You probably know motivation when you see it. Or maybe a more accurate verb is, feel it. Let’s dive into the characteristics and actions of someone with high motivation. Goleman articulates such people as those who seek out creative challenges, love to learn and take great pride in a job well done. People who embody this energy are persistent with their questions about why things are done one way rather than another and are always looking for a way to do things better.
If you employ one of these people, they may drive you a bit nuts, and you might feel like you are constantly pulling back on the reins. While I know they will make you flex your leadership muscles, I encourage you to feed this fire, not dampen it. I was this employee, and I can tell you from experience that if we are not given opportunities to properly use this insatiable energy, we will leave. We will work for ourselves, or we will find a leader with a cause we believe in who knows what to do with us. Once pointed in the right direction, with the proper supports and feedback, well, look out.
So, you may ask, what do I do with this person, or, hey, I am that person, so what next?
Two common traits of people who are driven to achieve are a continual raising of the performance bar and the desire to keep score.
Let’s take the performance bar first. Set goals and seek out experiences in leadership that stretch you. As Goleman encourages, make sure to check in with yourself, use your self-awareness and recognize your limits — but don’t settle for objectives that seem too easy to fulfill.
Now that you have the goals, it is time to track progress. Set hard, measurable metrics within a time frame, and watch that flame start to turn into a bonfire.
What if you are not that person with strong motivation, but you want to be? Good news: If you recall from the first column in this series, emotional intelligence is not fixed — it is, in fact, something you can nurture and grow.
Now, if you are anything like 22-year-old me, you want to know: What keeps that fire stoked in these people? How do I tap into that in myself? Speaking from experience, literature, two decades of studying human behavior and speaking with well over a hundred small business owners, I say that you have to know your core values and have a solid grasp on your “why.”
That, my friends, is good, hard and critical work. It is not done quickly, nor without discomfort. It must, however, be done. I have written on the topic before and will probably dive deeper in the future. For now, reflect on your own motivation and do the work to grow it.
And please, for the love of all that is good, for that highly motivated employee who drives you just a little nuts, be the leader they need you to be.
Until next time, manage like a leader.