Proven tips on motivating others

Those in leadership positions often need to motivate others to take on a new challenge, perform a task or simply behave in a certain way. There are a number of ways to motivate people around you. The two broadest categories of motivation are extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

First, let’s look at extrinsic motivation. This type of motivation is based on some external reward or punishment. An example of an extrinsic reward would be, “If you get me that document by lunch time, I’ll give you a piece of cake.” This attempts to lure the other person with the promise of something desirable, providing that they do what you want them to do.

Then there’s the opposite, the treat of punishment, if the other person doesn’t do what you want them to do. An example is, “If you don’t get me that document by the end of the day, I’ll punch you in the nose.”

You can see how that might be ineffective. While negative extrinsic motivation may result in the other person doing what you want them to do, it also breaks down respect and trust. You can’t build a solid, long-lasting relationship based on the threats, or the feeling that you’re going to be subject to punishment if you don’t do what someone else wants you to do. Negative motivation that is predicated on the threat of violence is particularly damaging.

Let’s look at intrinsic motivation. This calls upon people to take action for themselves because they themselves choose to do so. Intrinsic motivate wells up from deep inside a person and does not depend on any external reward or punishment.

Naturally, this type of motivation is much more powerful. And it’s also much harder to achieve. It requires time to build a relationship of trust and respect. Even then, there are no guarantees that others will be mobilized to do what you want. That’s the whole point. The other person has choice and control. How do you motivate people intrinsically? Give them more choice and control!

Here are a few tips to help motivate others intrinsically:

  • Make them feel good about what you need them to do.
  • Give clear, explicit instructions. Don’t assume that they will know what to do.
  • Give them a manageable challenge.
  • Give them some control and a choice.
  • Create an environment of trust and respect.
  • Take a cooperative attitude. Help, but don’t do it for them. Let them know they are helping you by doing what you need them to do (on time).
  • Do not compare them to others.
  • Minimize extrinsic motivation. There is no reward other than doing the right thing.
  • Offer praise when it is due.
  • Point out their strengths, abilities and talents.

To motivate others in this way involves a focus on them, not you. Stop thinking about what you want or need and start thinking about what the other person wants and needs.  Allowing the other person to maintain some autonomy will help you build an excellent relationship over the long term.

Accept that sometimes, the other person may not do what you want, regardless of the tactics you use. When that happens you will need to decide if you’re going to resort to extrinsic motivation or if it’s worth it to let this one go and try again next time.


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

3 Responses to Proven tips on motivating others

  1. Liz Asbury-Brown says:

    Trying to find the appropriate motivation can be challenging because different people are motivate by different things whether it be intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. How do we as leaders find a happy medium?

    • That’s a good question. I’m not sure there’s a simple answer. I think it very much depends on who’s being led, where they’re being led from and where they’re heading. I’m not sure there’s a silver bullet and the challenge of leadership is working with different individuals and organization, finding some sense of equilibrium in what are, by their very nature, complex situations. Good, thought-provoking question. Thanks.

  2. Atticus says:

    I agree Sarah, this is the typical carrot & stick approach.

    Have you seen Daniel Pink’s video on this topic? Gives a fascinating insight in to what you just described.

    It’s called ‘Drive’, the science behind what motivates us. Here’s a link from my blog if you’re interested:

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