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The Levels of Motivation


I have this emerging theory on how to motivate people. Looking at the greatest world leaders, how did they get people to follow them? How do we get people to follow us? How do others get us to do things? When you do something, what is your primary motivation? Is it fear? love? duty? Which is the most powerful?

The following is a list of common motivators in order from least to most powerful.

5. Guilt - Guilt is a lousy motivator. I promotes slothful action and can even engender resentment. Although it may work for short-term tasks, those looking for long term results would be better served to look elsewhere.

4. Fear - Fear is only an effective motivator in the short term. When people act out of fear, it builds resentment and animosity. They will look for ways not to complete (i.e. to escape) their tasks. Granted this may not be universally true, but in general fear is a lousy long-term motivator but an excellent short term one. I also think that fear's effectiveness is inversely proportional to a person's self esteem. In other words, the greater one's feeling of self-worth, the less effective fear is as a motivator.

3. Duty - People do a lot of things out of a sense of duty. A person motivated by duty does not need constant supervision. They willingly (although not always enthusiastically) perform their tasks. There are also many levels of duty. I general, it can be as low as fear or as high as love but is usually somewhere in between. Duty is a good long-term motivator as it doesn't usually produce resentment but insures a good relationship.

2. Greed - Greed can be a very powerful motivator. In many instances is can and will subvert fear and duty. It's even been known to trump love with some. Greed is the ultimate embodiment of selfishness. When one is consumed with bettering oneself (with money or power or whatever) at the expense of all else, nobody is safe. Greed is not a good long-term motivator as greedy people tend to self-destruct while they alienate those around them. Eventually they just crash and burn and are of no use to anybody (assuming they aren't already in jail).

1. Love - True love is the best motivator. It works in both the short-term and the long-term. Those motivated by love are innovative, enthusiastic, and sometimes reckless in their zeal for accomplishment. They would only need supervision if you worry that they would go too far in their zeal for accomplishing their tasks. This is not the "if you love me you'll..." sort of love. That's manipulation border on a fear (fear of losing a loved one) motivation. This also isn't the same as a child not doing their chores. A child has full confidence that the love from their parents is not contingent on chores (and if it is, well then, I think we're back to fear). This is a genuine respect and loyalty for the motivator.

I've said for a while that while fear is a good motivator, love is the best. Unfortunately many resort to fear and greed because they can be established quickly while love and duty can take a long time to build. We see that a lot in elections. How many political ads prey on fear instead of trying to build on love? Fear is easy, love is hard. However, fear doesn't last and love just keeps growing.

If you want to be a leader, take a good hard look on how you would lead. Are you in it for now or are you looking to stay in it for the long haul?

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