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Leadership in a Changed World: Understanding Motivations of Individuals

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This is number four in a series of six articles where we explore leadership in a changed world.

In this article we explore:

  • Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
  • Why do people work?
  • Positive and negative motivators
  • Using motivational analysis to create a high-performance environment

The more motivated and engaged your workforce is, the greater your organisation’s potential for success. Motivators can differ widely depending on the individual and so assessing for motivation allows you to understand what really drives your team to excel.

Understanding and assessing motivation helps you to;

  • Understand the link between individual motivation and employee engagement.
  • Identify and manage an individual’s strongest motivators and demotivators.
  • Improve employee motivation and engagement.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

A well-known theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1954 paper, “Motivation and Personality”1 explored human motivations, i.e. what motivates us, or what makes us tick. Maslow aligned our human motivations against a 5-point hierarchy.

The scale starts with our need to satisfy our basic human survival requirements including thirst and hunger, ending in the highest level of motivation which is to fulfil our full potential.

Maslows hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s theory works on the concept that you must more or less fulfil one stage before you can move on to another. For example, you can’t achieve security, stability and protection if you have not yet satisfied your basic needs of hunger and thirst. Or, you can never reach your full potential if you don’t first have self-respect and self-confidence.

Outside events and influences can mean that where we place ourselves on the hierarchy can shift, especially when we think of the COVID pandemic - people’s attention shifted back to fulfilling their psychological and safety needs over and above self-actualisation.

Additional to Maslow’s theory, Peter Saville and Roger Holdsworth, (co-founders of Saville & Holdsworth Ltd) identified 18 motivational factors relating to what motivates us in life and in the workplace.

Leadership in a changed world
While most people can immediately identify with one main motivational factor, there are usually between four and six that would be predominant in each individual. While all motivators have pro’s and con’s the unique combination of motivators can influence the overall motivating nuance.

Why do people work?

Level of Activity:

Type: Thrives on time pressure and invests high levels of energy in every task.

Pro: Can be very efficient and productive - hit all deadlines and produce good work.

Con: Could agree to too many deadlines and end-up achieving none.


Type: Need to belong, they relish the opportunity to work as part of a team.

Pro: Will invest high levels of energy when given the opportunity to work with others.

Con: Difficulty can arise if they need to work alone.


Type: Motivated by goals they have set themselves.

Pro: Will always strive to better themselves and will likely enjoy a culture that emphasises achieving targets.

Con: If their personal best is not to the expected level of the organisation. Lack of targets or unchallenging work could be frustrating.


Type: Motivated by doing better than colleagues and will be monitoring their own performance against that of their peers.

Pro: If they are capable of being better than their peers this will cause them to strive to be the best.

Con: If the individual does not have the capability to be the best, it could be destructive, and they may opt out of the competition.

Commercial Outlook:

Type: Everything they do has to show a return on investment, will link all tasks to a commercial return. They will question what value the task has and will strive to link this to productivity, efficiency, image enhancement or monetary value.

Pro: Will invest energy if the task is directly linked to a return for the organisation.

Con: Potentially demotivated if no return can be shown.


Type: Needs good work to be noticed.

Pro: Motivated to always produce high standards of work especially when given regular praise and feedback.

Con: Likely to be highly demotivated by a lack of support and praise.

Personal Principles:

Type: Want to work for and be affiliated with an organisation that has similar values and beliefs.

Pro: If beliefs and values are sound, great things can be achieved. Sense of loyalty and belonging is high.

Con: If the organisation and individual have fewer moral values then these will be encouraged.


Type: Need to work independently and organise their own approach.

Pro: Motivated by the freedom to operate within given parameters, they will not seek to widen these.

Con: Can be demotivated by close supervision and feel devalued by close management.


Type: The need for authority in the role they do.

Pro: Can be motivated by the influence they have. Will work harder when faced with the prospect of widening their scope of authority. Often fit well in leadership positions.

Con: May seek to “run before they can walk” and can be demotivated if not given responsibility that they feel they need.

Ease & Security:

Type: Need to feel secure about job and position.

Pro: Get it right and they tend to stay in a role for a long time.

Con: Any hint of job insecurity could have a negative impact. Does not easily tolerate unpleasant conditions in regard to the physical environment or the way they are managed.

Material Reward:

Type: Links perks and bonuses to success. Feel that their earnings should be a fair reflection for the work they do. Viewed as a measure of how valuable they are to the company.

Pro: With the right rewards can be consistently motivated and highly successful.

Con: Demotivated when remuneration is deemed poor.

Personal Growth:

Type: Motivated by work that provides opportunities for development and acquisition of new skills.

Pro: Will be looking to learn new things on an ongoing basis, will enjoy spending time with and learning from colleagues.

Con: Mundane, repetitive tasks with no opportunity to learn can become frustrating.


Type: Always strives to reach the role above them.

Pro: Career progression and advancement alone is enough motivation.

Con: Slow promotion and unfair promotional decisions can be significantly de-motivating.


Type: Motivated by interest and stimulating, varied, creative work.

Pro: Thrives on new work, processes and projects.

Con: Will become demotivated by many mundane tasks and high levels of repetition.


Type: Concerned with position and status. They enjoy having the status for themselves, but also in the knowledge that others recognise their status in the organisation and the contribution they make.

Pro: Strive to achieve and gain respect for the work they do.

Con: Demotivated by lack of respect from others.


Type: Favour a fluid environment without imposed structure and enjoy a high level of ambiguity. This can be in environment or in management structure.

Pro: Open to change and thrives on free open communication, will be vocal with ideas, needs and challenges.

Con: Demotivation can come from rigidity in structure and processes.

Less desirable motivational factors would include:


Type: Lives to work. Working for the sake of work.

Pro: Will put in lots of time and effort while still achieving a high standard of work. Can be very successful at what they do because of the sheer level of effort that they put in.

Con: Often too involved in their work. Prone to burn out and can be easily taken advantage of.

Fear of Failure:

Type: Invest higher levels of energy to get through the prospect of failure. Head straight towards an issue without due consideration or weighing up of the consequences.

Pro: Could cause really productive and innovative solutions. The risks that they take could pay off.

Con: Risks often lead to failing and feeling demotivated.

Leadership in a changed world

Why else do people work?

Similarly, in the 1980s professors Edward Deci and Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester distinguished their own reasons for why people work and summarised six common threads made up of three positive motivators and three negative motivators.

Positive Motivators: These increase work performance but can be easily forgotten or rather suppressed in times of crisis, uncertainty and disruption.

  1. PLAY - Being motivated by the work itself.
  2. PURPOSE - You value the work’s impact; it fits with your identity.
  3. POTENTIAL - The outcome of the work enhances your potential.

Negative Motivators: These will move someone to action, but they are indirectly related to the job and work. These are likely to have spiked due to the current pandemic but could lead to reduced performance as time progresses.

  1. EMOTIONAL PRESSURE - You work because an external force threatens your identity. (Worry, guilt, status)
  2. ECONOMIC PRESSURE - An external force makes you work. (Money, family)
  3. INERTIA - You can’t identify why you’re working there is no drive, just repetition.

Motivators & Personality Traits: These are just two of the models of motivational analysis, there have been many studies in the field. Both the Saville & Holdsworth and the Deci & Ryan models are strongly linked with personality typing, another vast side to behaviour analysis.

A combination of personality questionnaires and motivational questionnaires are often used in candidate screening and for access to higher educational programmes. The questionnaires help to evaluate a candidate’s competencies, personality preferences and workplace behaviours.

Some of the most common personality questionnaires are;

  1. Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ) 1
  2. Saville Wave 2
  3. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) 3
  4. Talent Q Dimensions 4
  5. Personality and Preference Inventory (PAPI) 5

The Deci & Ryan model relates to the workplace setting but humans are complex and so the Saville and Holdsworth model provides much more scope for drilling down into what really makes an individual tick.

Understanding all models of behaviour analysis and how they relate can provide a massive advantage for leaders and individuals alike.

Using motivational analysis to create a high-performance environment

When setting objectives with each individual, consider with the Deci & Ryan approach, how you can reduce the impact of indirect motives and maximise the positive direct motives. With the Saville and Holdsworth approach you can create an environment that seeks to inspire the ‘pro’s’ and minimise the ‘cons’ for each motivator.

  • Try to identify your own key motivators from the Saville & Holdsworth model.
  • Ask yourself: What solutions can I put into practice that will work for me?
  • Based on your experience, can you identify motivators for individual team members? Ask yourself: What solutions can we put into practice that will work for that individual? Increase collaboration, clarity, support and direction to strengthen all motives.
  • Praise and celebrate success
  • Give people the opportunity to experiment and solve problems that really matter by asking the following questions;

Where can we deliver amazing service to our customers?

What is broken that our team can fix?

What will drive growth even in a time of uncertainty?

Why are these problems critical, valuable, or interesting?

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