Motivation is a very important subject. It is one of the questions that has this universal appeal. What is it that really motivates, is there a universal answer to the quest ion of motivation? Is there a unifying factor, a common denominator that we can say addresses the question of motivation all over the world? In essence can we predict people’s behaviors based on application of certain stimuli or causes?

What is motivation? I will attempt to define motivation as derived from the root word “motive”; the reason you do what you do, what is your motive? What is your motivation? See, in a way the words can be interchanged in a certain context. We can say motivation is that reason you act in a certain way or don’t act in a certain way.

Anyone who has had to work with people and has had to lead a group of people has at some point had to ask the question: how do I motivate my people? This is because people have motives for doing what they do? It’s biological. Why do babies cry? For a number of reasons: a diaper change, pangs of hunger, seeking attention. The thing is we all have internal reasons why we do what we do. We can call it cause and effect.


Let’s start with work., why do people go to work? The need to fit into societies’ expectations? The need for survival: food, clothing, shelter? The need for self expression? The reasons differ and over time these reasons evolve as we grow.

The question of a universal motivating factor is something that has been sought after but an evasive thing to realize. This is because motivation differs from culture to culture and it’s difficult to see a one size meets all solution. Well yes, we as humans require basic needs of food, water, clothing, shelter. These are basic needs.

Beyond these basic needs is where the question of motivation comes in. At work the provision of basic needs are not sufficient to motivate people to work; it’s what you do or don’t do after these needs have been taken care of that really motivates or demotivates.

Questions like recognition, meaning, purpose are important questions; what are we working towards as an organization? What are the rewards for completing this project? The puzzle of motivation is what can be done to make groups of people perform at levels above what they would ordinarily do.


Request a Newsletter (ID #185)

What has been established is that a feature of good management is being able to get people do above what they would do without the influence of the manager. So it becomes a question for the manager to determine what can be done to motivate people, in order words give people the motive to do what you would love them to do.

Another thing that has been established, is that what motivates people differs from culture to culture, and even within cultures, people are individuals and what motivates one may not necessarily work for another.

Someone may be motivated by the promise of achievement and accomplishment; for another the motivation may be association, the promise of belonging to a certain class of people; for another it’s the greater purpose, the satisfaction of contributing to a larger goal.


Motivation to do certain tasks can be encouraged, people can move from zero motivation in certain things to super motivation, the key is to make them see how and why they should do what they are being asked to do.

It’s not as though the motivations mentioned above are mutually exclusive in the sense that it’s either this or that, but rather we find that some are more motivated by a certain factor than the other and while some of the aforementioned may be exciting to experience, a particular factor is that “button” that really makes one go all the way.

Leaders have to be observant and really know their people to understand what makes their people glow. I found that as I grew biologically, some things that really mattered began to be replaced by other values. When I got married for instance and had our first child, my thought were now quite long term, I began to view the things before me in the light of years down the line, as it affected our child.

At work, career decisions are made with the lens of my family, while before, all that mattered was myself, now I have to think of how this impacts on my family.

We find how this plays out: the company that offers a comprehensive health package for the entire family, maybe help with tuition for the children may be more attractive for someone with a family than a company that simply pays more money in wages.

It is important as far as it is possible for managers to communicate the meanings of the jobs people do, for instance the global impact of the task at hand; this is important to give people the motive to do work that is exceptional. This is more so as when people are able to meet their basic needs for survival, they then want to see meaning in what they do.


It is this lack of meaning that’s responsible for burn out that so often happens as people approach their middle ages, when the question of deep meaning of their jobs become so important. People are known to quit high paying jobs for less paying jobs all in the quest for meaning in their lives.

So you see after some point the focus is not just about the huge pay out in salary but the meaning and how this meaning aligns with my definition or meaning or a lack of it.

We see from this that motivation is not in true definition an external component, it’s indeed internal and the focus of leaders is find ways of encouraging people to internalize this “drive” . It’s interesting because as a leader what you can change are things on the outside like conducive work environment, training programmes, reward systems, just that what you are focusing on is the internalization of the motive to perform at greater levels.


The key to motivation is not universal, people want to meet their basic needs of food, clothing, shelter or safety then they want to have a sense of association, then a sense of accomplishment, they want to be recognized. But some of these needs are more important than others depending on the individual and the culture.

People who work at a not for profit organization are certainly motivated by other things than an investment banker would be. A young person fresh out of college would likely be motivated by different things when he is married with children; the same person but different motives for living as life progresses.

The solution to motivation is not to generalize or seek a universal solution. The focus should be to first ensure the basics are taken care of, a safe, neat conducive work environment. Good remuneration, are my people being well paid?

When all these are well taken care of, we now look at the policies of the organization, how do these enshrine fairness, reward for productivity and the like. All these putting in mind the culture of the people, are there different nationals working here? The culture conditions people’s expectations.

To really get it right, the leader has to as far as this is possible know his people, the thing is connect with people to have a clue as to the key to motivation.

Request a Newsletter (ID #185)


  1. Brendah Kest Reply

    Motivation has led me to where I am today. When I wake up at 4am in the morning, I must first find something to motivate me through the day and that’s how I don’t get back to bed. Your information is helpful for business builders who need to motivate their partners or employees to work. The number one thing I agree with that is second to what you said is do what you want your followers to do. You don’t need to speak it out. This has helped me and the information you gave us can help us. Thanks for giving us this. It’s important.

    • Abayomi Disu Post authorReply

      Thank you Brendah. What you have mentioned is true, leaders ought to model what is expected from those they lead. I am glad you find this content helpful.

  2. SeunJeremiah Reply

    One thing I have learnt from this post how to motivate myself and others by dealing with some of the worst motivation issues day in and day out motivation, one can deal with life’s setbacks, as well as inspire ourselves to always find a way forward, and create new experiences for yourself, and follow your growth, because results can only be gotten from motivation and capabilities.

    • Abayomi Disu Post authorReply

      Nice Seun, it’s indeed a day to day commitment!I like it when you say “inspire ourselves”. Inspiration is from the inside out, and is very key.

  3. Brandon Reply

    This article is absolutely correct. Motivation comes and goes. When the average person wants to exercise, they will exercise when they feel motivated…their motive is caused by an emotion that triggered them to do a workout. Without the emotion, they wouldn’t feel the need to workout. That’s why if you want to workout consistently, you should never count on motivation because it’s not always going to be there. Create discipline and you will workout because you know it has to be done. Great article, I learnt a lot.

    • Abayomi Disu Post authorReply

      Thank you Brandon, discipline also plays a role in achieving what needs to be done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *