Why Motivating People Doesn't Work ... and What Does

Book Cover
Susan Fowler
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Oct 14, 2022

It was only this week I finished watching the first season of Ted Lasso. I'm arriving late to the show, but am loving it as much as expected--from both all the praise it's received and the little I knew about its premise. One of the areas it's exceeded my expectations is Ted's approach to coaching. In case you don't know, Ted is a top American football coach who takes a job as a British football (soccer) coach. He knows nothing about the game or culture he's jumped into, but he's completely confident in his ability to succeed because he knows something even more important: what motivates people. He doesn't coach by focusing on the details of the game, but by watching his people, figuring out what they need, and giving it to them. After that, the rest takes care of itself.

I mention that because this book, as well as any I know, is a manual for those wanting to learn how to lead like Ted Lasso does. Or maybe Ted read this book and learned how to apply it to his situation. Either way. From the concluding chapter of Fowler's book:

Executives tend to pursue results by focusing on what they want from people. They have it backwards.

When you focus on what you want for people, you are more likely to get the results you want from people.

And from the chapter before that:

The nature of human motivation is not about making money. The nature of human motivation is in making meaning. . . .

Definitive evidence shows that organizational vitality measured by return on investment, earnings by share, access to venture capital, stock price, debt load, and other financial indicators is dependent on two factors: employee work passion and customer devotion. It does not work the other way around—organizational vitality is not what determines customer devotion or employee work passion. . . .

What [leaders] want for their people is a positive sense of well-being. At the heart of what leaders hope for their people is the satisfaction of their psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

In other words, the key to a successful business or organization is making sure that people find their psychological needs met by their work, because if they do then the work they do will be excellent. People don't need to be motivated by external factors, they need to feel autonomy, relatedness, and competence, and then they'll be intrinsically, authentically motivated to do their best in response. Leaders shouldn't focus on motivating them, but on creating an environment in which they motivate themselves.

Fowler does an excellent job of presenting this information and making her case, succinctly, directly, and with plentiful examples. I recommend it for everyone.

Reviewed by Chris K.
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