Last month, at two different events, I met folks who would be in my audience who responded, “Oh, you’re our motivational speaker!”  I’m frequently not included in the internal PR for the events I’m speaking at, so I don’t know how I was advertised.  But it’s a term I don’t like.  At the risk of throwing an entire genre of speakers (including myself) under the bus, to me a “motivational speaker” hypes up emotions in their audiences, focusing on feelings and trite phrases over substantial content that will change behaviors after they are gone.  I’d like to think if I’m motivating someone, I know what I’m motivating them to do.  A generic dose of “motivation” isn’t likely to change much.  I don’t want to be seen as a pep rally cheer leader.


As someone who has taught and trained for over 30 years (that makes me feel old – I need some motivation!), behavior change is really what I’m after.  But as I contemplated my responses to these well-meaning folks giving me a label I didn’t want, I realized that I probably SHOULD want to be called a motivational speaker.


One of my biggest frustrations in teaching communication skills is the  student who walks out of class singing our praises, but then fail to put in the work to change their behaviors.  They might be fired up, but they aren’t motivated to do what it takes to be great.


But I face the same issue in several areas in my own life.  I know how to eat better and lose weight, but I don’t do it. That’s a motivation issue.  I want to write more (I have thirty (30!) books with titles and outlines I’d like to complete), but am still sucked in to mindless YouTube drifting instead of putting words on the hard drive.  I lack motivation.  I have an inbox full of communication demanding a response.  But I let them lag.  Procrastination is a motivation issue.


In the work I’m doing with 3D Institute and The Joseph Company, our next module is on Motivation.  We define motivation as the drive to pursue and persist.  I want it and I’m willing to go after it until I get it.  It could be a skill, a relationship, an object, or an opportunity.  People who are not motivated will quit at the first sign of trouble.  People who are motivated will endure hardship and failure and keep going.  People who are not motivated will get distracted at the first opportunity that seems more interesting.  People who are motivated will push aside distractions and opportunities that don’t aid them in pursuit of their goals.  People who are not motivated will put a task on their list and procrastinate until (or beyond) the deadline.  People who are motivated get right to the task and see it through to completion.  I’ve said for years – mostly when someone tells me they don’t have time – people do what they want to do.  Perhaps a better statement would be, people do what they are motivated to do.



Daniel Pink, in his most excellent book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, says there are three elements that contribute to motivation. These are worth studying for leaders who want to get maximum effort from their employees and peers.  It’s also useful for those of us with a task list that doesn’t seem to get done.


  1. First, a sense of autonomy.  People are more motivated when they know they can control the outcome independently and self-directed.  When we need permission, or when another team has edit authority, or when someone can veto our idea, it undermines motivation.   
  2. Next, a sense of mastery. If completing a task gives me the idea that I am doing something truly wonderful, then I’ll be motivated to pursue it.  And then once I have the particular skill,     I’ll jump at the chance to showcase it.  It’s why I will spend hours manipulating a spreadsheet (something I am really good at), but the piles on my desk don’t get filed (something I’m not good at).
  3. Lastly, motivation is driven by a sense of purpose.  In Daniel Pink’s own words, this is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.  As I get older, this becomes more and more important.  What am I leaving behind?  Is this worth my effort in the grand scheme of things?


Motivation is at the very root of getting things done well.  Leaders and aspiring savants will want to know how to get the maximum effort from themselves and others.


If you are leading a team or just watching your own motivation suffer, then examining these three factors can help diagnose the cause of the problem. Too many leaders micromanage, taking away the autonomy from very capable workers and sending their motivation plummeting.  We may not use our skills in the way they can be showcased, or even thwart efforts to become great at a skillset.  And lastly, what is the bigger vision you can connect your task to?  Failure to make that connection will hinder motivation and effort.


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This article was published in the December edition of our monthly speaking tips email newsletter, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today to receive our newsletter and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.”  You can unsubscribe at any time.

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