It’s easy to think you are, but your behavior might tell a different story. For example, if you find yourself working 24/7. It could be that you love your work, that you feel you are making a contribution to something bigger than yourself and that at the core you are helping others without asking for something in return. But it also could be that you feel by working so hard you’ll achieve some higher status in the future, you’ll have money, you’ll finally have control, you’ll be noticed by people even higher up who have power over what opportunities you’ll be offered in the future. Perhaps you carry a secret hope that someday you’ll get to a place where that contribution of yours will be fully recognized — finally — and your career will be a little safer. And maybe you’ll one day stop envying those who seem to get ahead without the 24/7 routine, the lack of vacations, the illnesses and accidents that distract you from the goal of your indeterminate advancement. God knows how they did it. If only you were smarter, more talented, worked harder and others truly saw you for who you are.
Such is the nature of extrinsic reward these days. Perhaps you’ve been told you should be intrinsically motivated so that you now do a good job of rationalizing that you truly are internally driven. “Driven” is the operative word, right? The other day perusing LinkedIn (an almost magical source of data), I noticed someone introduced a job description with the words, “I’m hiring — a great opportunity for the right driven individual.” And there you have it, appearing to be driven or being actually driven is a key qualification, at least for that job, a way in and maybe even a way up. If you are, maybe there will be rewards someday if you are driven enough. Please do evaluate what the meaning of driven is, how that might be measured, what it promises if you are foolish enough to follow it, and what the reality is. I’m suggesting that what it has to do with true intrinsic motivation might be nothing at all.
Do you love the work itself? Are you making a contribution larger than yourself? Are you helping other people? Do you feel fulfilled? Well, these things are one way to look at it and there are other views, including Daniel Pink’s now famous three part definition of what truly drives human beings: autonomy, mastery and purpose. What might your own theory be? It’s important to know, especially if you are in a leadership role because whatever your internal theory and your external behavior are saying, that’s what you are modeling to other people, including every one of your reports.
There’s the delusion and then there’s the “success formula,” which is another name for the habits people adopt in order to meet their implicit life goals. A success formula is what we do in a patterned way to get what we need and want. If I’m successful in getting external recognition, for instance, I probably have a way of getting it. I may not be able to perfectly articulate it to others; but its my code, my way of getting ahead. We like to impose these codes if they’ve worked for us, so I imagine the person offering a job to the right driven individual is probably pretty driven him/herself. The aggregate of these views all too easily becomes the nature of a preferred societal or company culture, no matter what it actually does to people. Burn out? Listen, I can’t afford to burn out! Then somebody else who works harder than I do, who puts in more hours, who puts up with even more excessive and unreasonable demands — then that person gets ahead rather than me! Burn out! Forget it! I haven’t got time!
It’s all nonsense. So what can you do? I say, stop. Being driven is a smart person acting without the advantage of their own intelligence and agency — the exact opposite of intrinsic motivation. This is why, I guess, I believe there isn’t a thing called leading without the fact of intrinsic motivation. Because judgment, holding a vision, setting limits, caring for self and others, speaking up and speaking out, initiating and changing and improving things can’t just be for the external rewards alone. They come as an essence, as part of the nature of who you are and as an expression of an indefinable beauty you already have within you.
So I ask, do you enjoy your work? Do you love the contribution you are making? Do you love helping others? Is it fulfilling? I think this pretty much describes what people are looking for. It’s what people who genuinely lead hold within themselves and express by being and modeling for others without trying to model anything at all.