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Part 3: The case of Emotional Intelligence – "Self-Motivation"


What is it?

We said (see previous posts) that self-awareness is about noticing and self-regulation is about taking action. Self-Motivation is about achieving.

As D. Goleman says “If there is one trait that virtually all effective leaders have, it is motivation – a variety of self-management whereby we mobilize our positive emotions to drive us toward our goals”. 

Motivation is a complex topic, and despite the extensive researches, scientists have not identified a “magic potion” to stay motivated. The reason is that motivation is a state and, as such, it is in continuous transformation; it is triggered and sustained by internal an external factors; it is subjective - what motivates you may do not motivate me; it is tightly connected to our self-worth and self-esteem.

Here we focus on self-motivation (intrinsic motivation). With the aim to simplify things and make them actionable, we look at what self-motivated leaders all have in common. They all seem to know very well what they want and why (very clear purpose and goals), and they have the ability to uphold a positive outlook (positive thoughts and emotions) even during tough times.

What does it mean to be intrinsically motivated? What mobilizes these leaders is not money or status or any other external motivator (not that they are not important…they are just not enough!). Instead, they are driven by the internal need to actualize themselves, to learn, to explore, to better up. Ultimately, they get great satisfaction and energy from these activities. 

For global leaders and expatriates, self-motivation is what drives them to take international career paths, to relocate from country to country, to learn new languages, to understand other cultures and to accept every day the challenges of leading away from home.


The Tool

Can Self-motivation be nurtured, and how can you do that? 

As said, self-motivation is about having clear goals and retaining a positive outlook while working towards them. And, while there is no magic formula to higher self-motivation, there are activities that can support you. 

Know your What and Why

Know your WhatThere is so much written on goal setting that I will not repeat here what you most probably already know. I will only point out to the importance of having “higher goals” and “smaller goals”. The higher goal is a distant and important outcome (e.g. winning a championship); the smaller goals are the set of tinier achievements that lead to the attainment of the higher goal (e.g. winning each game in the championship). While the higher goal gives us inspiration, the smaller goals help feed our daily motivation. They keep us going! Without them, we are more likely to feel unmotivated and to give up.

Remember your WhyThis is a very important one. It is the “why” – your purpose - that gives you the motivation to wake up every morning and work hard towards your goals. Sometimes, we are very good at setting goals but we may forget to clarify and remember the why, both to our team and to ourselves. A good read to reflect on the importance of why is “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek.

Action steps: 

1.  Define a higher goal (what) and remind yourself why you want it. Ask yourself questions like "what makes this goals so important", “what happens when I/we get this?”, "what happens if I/we do not get it", "Once I get this, then what happens?". Now, visualize achieving that goal - you have got what you wanted, you have become what you wanted. How is it? How does it feel? What do you see-do-say when you are there? Who will be with you?..... 

2.  Once you have the “Why and What” find ways to recall them, to keep them alive. How are you going to stay present to them in the midst of business challenges, change and high pressure contexts? For example: setting a reminder on your calendar, starting your monthly meeting with reviewing the what and why with your team, finding ways to visualize. Experiment and find what works for you.

Example: One of my corporate clients hired an illustrator to work with the team and develop a fun and colorful vision board that summarized their purpose and goals. It was an inspiring process and each member received a paper and digital copy as a memorandum. It this someting that could work for you too?


Celebrate - Digest - Celebrate

Celebrate every small achievement and make it a habit.  It will help you stay optimistic and “digest” the small losses. Social psychology researchers have found that when we take the time to appreciate the good stuff, we boost positive emotions. Positive emotions help build resilience and protect us from the daily stress and challenges. (1)

Of course, sometimes we do not hit the target. Help your team (and yourself) take this as an opportunity to learn and do better. How will this loss help increase our chances of success for the future? What have we learned? What can we do differently?

After all, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new” (Albert Einstein).

Hint: Celebrations can be as small as recognizing an achievement at the beginning of a meeting, sending a thank you note or bringing cake to the office. You could also make them become an event, something that everybody knows about and looks forward: an official recognition event, a newsletter, a monthly letter to the team,..

Whatever you choose, make it a routine; day after day it will help you and your people remain in the right mindset. 


I would love to hear about your strategies. I am sure you'll find what works for you.

Keep me posted.


References: (1)  “10 steps to savoring the good things is life”



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