Is Fear Your Motivation?

I came across this article written by Jim Collins way back in 1998 where he talks about a personal experience that he had when he received a teaching award at Stanford. He said, “I began to dread teaching this course because I had taught it before and I wondered whether I would be able to repeat the expectations that people had.” It had obviously gone well and he wondered whether this one would go better. He said, “I felt motivated for sure, but it was the kind of motivation that sapped away the joy that I normally felt with teaching. “

About the same time he was reading about John Wooden, the UCLA basketball coach who led his team to 10 NCAA championships in 12 years during the 60s and 70s. It dawned on him that Wooden had never made it a goal to repeat the previous year’s performance; not even if it had been an undefeated performance. Instead he focused his attention entirely on how to improve on the previous year. He said that Wooden highlighted for him a supreme truth. I want to quote that. “Excellence is the residual result of continual creation and improvement for its own sake. ” We continue to do things better because we want to make it better. Whereas the fear mongers concentrate on the demoralizing effect of failure, Wooden capitalized on the inspiring payoff of achievement; the pure re-energizing glee that comes from simply doing something better.

When we look at ourselves and the work that we are doing, what is our motivation in our workplaces? Is it fear?. Is that our motivator? You know, I have sensed in the last year, travelling about and talking to different people, that fear seems to be a huge motivator – fear of change, fear to remain in the same place, fear not to rock the boat, fear to keep the status quo – fear seems to be the driver that motivates many.

But as Jim Collins says, “The dark side of motivation by fear is that it is like a powerful stimulant. It can jolt you for a while, but it also inevitably leaves you more drained than before. Wanting to survive to merely avoid losing what we have, is not a goal that can motivate over the long haul. It offers no promise of forward motion of accomplishment. It’s not something that is enduring; it’s not something that is ongoing, something that can be sustained over a long period of time. “

I found another article by Nicole Sforza in Incentive Magazine. The author says “Is fear a good motivator? Yes! Make sure the consequences have meaning and that you follow through with them. ” In other words, make sure that people understand that if they don’t deliver, that there are consequences and punishments that will take place.

Putting all of this together begged the question: where do we see ourselves in this scenario regarding motivation and fear? Is fear a motivating factor for people around us, below us, or those who report to us, to do good work? Or are there higher motivations? And if there are, what can those higher motivations be?

Adah Maurer, in an article ‘A General Theory of Motivation’ quotes John Kenneth Galbraith in the New Industrial State and he identifies 4 levels of motivation:

1. Compulsion. You do it because you have to like the former slaves who worked to avoid the lash.

2. The pecuniary reward or the wage. I do a particular job, I get money.

3. Identification. The individual on becoming associated with the group may conclude that its goals are superior to his own and may identify with that company and so be motivated. For e.g., somebody who is a wage-earner being paid to dig a ditch, could be shown that in digging a ditch, it would help to drain and remove a malarial swamp and make for a better environment for him/her. Immediately he/she moves from the wage-earner or pecuniary reward or one who just does it for the money to somebody who works through identification. This goodwill cannot be purchased. Even though the digger was hired and paid, giving in to a higher motivation or identification is not something that can be bought with money.

4. Adaptation. Here the person goes along with the group enterprise not so much because he believes in what they are doing, although they may do that also, but because he/she hopes to be able to get control and influence the direction of the effort according to his/her own plans.

That’s sometimes the way that we enter into a company. Isn’t it? We say, “Here’s what I bring to the table. I know that this is something that I can do. I can market well; I can envision well; I can lead well; I also have a vision for where I can take this particular company.” And that’s the fourth motivation. That’s adaptation. Identification and adaptation are the higher forms of motivation. They are intrinsically driven; they come from within. There’s more joy that comes from identification and adaptation than comes from compulsion and pecuniary reward.

This raises the question: where are you and where are others in regard to what you expect from them? Are you doing things out of compulsion or a reward for work? Or have you been able to move into a higher level of motivation, been able to identify or to adapt? When you look at what I’ve said, the 2 lower levels of motivation can be sapping. They can take away your joy. You can just go through the routine, the mundane; your zest for life can be lost. But if there’s identification, you know that what you’re doing is bringing change. If you can move into that area of adaptation, to know that the skills that you have can take this particular company forward into a newer area, then there’s joy that comes from within you. There’s an intrinsic motivation that helps you to get out of bed every day and charge to your work and be excited about all of it.

So, where do you stand? Are you intrinsically motivated? Are the people around you intrinsically motivated? Are you able to take them beyond a pecuniary reward as a leader/manager or even as a friend? I believe that must be the entry-level place for people who work, is first, to be able to show identification, and then move on to adaptation. But to be able to offer that, you and I need to believe in that as well. We need to be in that same place. Which begs another question: are you in that place?

Mark Dowd, writing in The Guardian, puts an interesting spin on this. He says, “Lobbyists and campaigners have been grappling for years with this question. ‘What is the best way to engage the human imagination on the issues of our time?’ Guilt and fear are very limited in their appeal and more often than not, only induce a greater fear to turn away and carry on as before. What’s encouraging is to come across so many who are getting more and more familiar with the notion of stewardship. It’s easy enough to scare people about climate change, but there are other ways to capture imaginations and create momentum. “

I submit to you today, that the root to identification and adaptation, is to be able to look at ourselves as good stewards–people who have been given different skills, different experiences, different education-and then, to be able to plough them back into our society, and our motivation must be to exemplify good stewardship over all our resources.

I believe that if we are able to see through the eyes of a steward, we would be well on our way to being identifiers and adaptors, well on our way to having joy in the midst of what we do.

Roy Robbins, the great rock climber who pioneered ascents of Yosemite’s Big Wall, said, “The point is not to avoid death. If you want to do that, simply stay on the ground. The point is to reach the top and then keep on climbing. ” To do that, fear and compulsion can never be motivators. It can only come through an intrinsic innate desire to continue to do well.

God has invested in us. Maybe we just need to say, “This is what I’m doing for Him. What He has given me, I’m making sure is honed. Every skill that I have, I’m going to make sure I use it to the best of my ability.” And if that happens, I believe our workplaces will be places of joy and not fear.

God Bless Us All.

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