Full-Scale Motivation … Maybe?

by  John E. Smith  |  Workplace Issues
Full-Scale Motivation … Maybe?

Maybe we are overthinking this whole “Motivation” thing …

I have been reading about motivation since my graduate school days, practicing various approaches to motivating others in every setting I find myself, and am familiar with the best-known theories about what moves and influences us.

I know that money and “perks” are nice, but sincere and distinct praise is better.

I understand that each person is motivated in a unique way based on  personality, background, and values.

I fully grasp that our strongest motivations come from within us, rather than from any external place or person.

Like some of you, I am currently trying hard to keep up with the informational fire hose that is the annual WBECS Pre-Summit series, where a large number of excellent and value-filled short presentations are available at no cost to those of us who identify as coaches, especially business, executive, and leadership coaches. This prelude to the Full Summit program next month, in my opinion, is the single best source of current learning around effective coaching from a global perspective.  

I am amazed at how much I get out of the Pre-Summit alone …

Earlier this morning, I was listening to Darelyn “DJ” Mitsch, author of the recently released Zombies Into Zealots discuss her current and upcoming work. She identified Love and Fear as the two basic underlying drivers of human behavior and used the phrases “Spiritual Intelligence” and “Be Yourself” around the growing understanding that we must deal with the whole person, rather than just the employee part of that human being.

Her comments spurred some thinking about how all this might be injected into ongoing discussions around motivation, from this proudly non-recovering Humanist who idolizes Carl Rogers and believes in a spiritual element for all human relationships.

Maybe this whole motivational thing could be as simple as:

First, decide to treat employees like fellow human beings, rather than role fillers.

Then, seek to see employees in their wholeness:  Take the time to understand what moves and shapes them, not just at work, to complete a task, or ply a trade, but as human beings, with physiological, emotional, economic, psychological, cultural, relational, biological, and even spiritual needs.

Finally, create workplaces that honor and support each person to the maximum extent possible by engaging with their whole person, not just the employee. Take the work-life balance concept a bit further.

Not exactly the transactional approach where we are always concerned with what we receive for what we give, but I find this direction resonates with me. If I were in an organization that did this to motivate me, I would respond quite positively … but that’s me.

This approach is far different from what I have experienced in the workplace, since it requires us to tread into the realms of spirituality and psyche, not familiar ground for most managers or leaders, outside the broad organizational context.

The religious overtones which accompany the use of the term “spiritual” are often problematic in organizations … it doesn’t easily fit within many business cultures.

Having worked in religiously-affiliated organizations some, I know first-hand how difficult it can be to address spiritual aspects of an employee. I imagine any HR folks reading this are having a bit of a swoon right now.  

So let’s talk honestly about what works and what doesn’t work!

What are your honest reactions to these three elements about interacting with the whole person?
Photo Credit: usage license

About The Author

Articles By john-smith
I enjoy helping people learn and grow through intentional, strategic, and social interventions. I coach, teach, train, facilitate, organize, write, speak, design, and lead at the intersection of leadership, learning, and human behavior. I am a CCE Board Certified Coach (BCC) with specializations in both Leadership/Business and Life/Personal coaching. My primary blog is The Strategic Learner on Wordpress.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Jane  |  31 May 2016  |  Reply

John, you’re on to something here. I would like to answer your question: What are your honest reactions to these three elements about interacting with the whole person?

This statement is a good summary of when it’s a sure bet that motivation fails. “where we are always concerned with what we receive for what we give” I don’t think there is anything more demotivating than ‘selfishness’. Self is stuck on one.

It’s interesting that less than an hour ago I was reading the ultimate religious book, the Bible and read 1 John 4 about what is behind a person’s behavior. Religion aside though, no matter where someone stands in their beliefs, people are motivated when they recognize how their gifts and talents can make a difference.

Here’s where the whole person comes in. I’m neither psychology major, religious scholar, C-suite, or zero level manager. I just believe people are motivated in some way to do good, to do bad, to do nothing. When they see more value in an act, desire different results, are weary of current circumstances, or don’t like their consequences – they will be motivated.

John E. Smith  |  01 Jun 2016  |  Reply

Hi, Jane – thanks for responding.

Yes, the desire to give of oneself and help others is strong in most people – that yen to make a difference is definitely my primary motivation.

I think your reasons why someone might be motivated to act are very comprehensive. We used a version of this in my therapist days to get a deeper understanding of when that balance shifts to action … what one person considers unacceptable consequences, another person might take without reaction.

Always appreciate your thoughtful contributions:)


Mary C. Schaefer  |  31 May 2016  |  Reply

John, so glad you brought this up! I’m an HR pro and I’m not swooning.

I don’t necessarily know that we need to use the word “spiritual” in talking about the whole human at work, though I totally get what you are saying. And something that just occurred to me… we have no verification that human beings in the workforce consider their spirituality (or lack of) as something that has to be addressed or acknowledged.

Several years ago when I was playing around with the thought of writing a book, I was using the words sacred and reverence a lot. My coach challenged, asking if my materials were only for people who were spiritual or religious. She broke open an assumption for me, thankfully. Given my own personal perspective (i.e. spiritual) she prompted some deep thinking. What I came to is that no matter what a person’s beliefs: religious, spiritual, atheist, agnostic or any other interpretation – none of this gets in the way of morality and believing in the value of life and how it is expressed through another human being, through work for instance.

Though my personal mission is bringing more humanity to the workplace, I can speak to my clients in their language. For some what speaks to them is that it is proven that treating people like human beings is good for business. Over time we can get to the reverence part.

Wow, what a thought-provoking post, John! Thank you!

John E. Smith  |  01 Jun 2016  |  Reply

Hi, Mary – nice comments … and I am personally happy that you are not swooning:)

Yes, morality is a universal facet of human behavior and we all live somewhere on the continuum of moral behavior every day. While a few folks probably connect morality with religious beliefs or spirituality, it is neither.

Let’s set aside religion, especially organized religion, for a bit.

Spirituality is an awareness of both self and of the larger universe in which one lives, at least to my thinking. I do believe that everyone has some sense of spirituality, which may or may not be well developed depending on their unique experiences.

I know people appreciate being recognized as individuals at work and everywhere else, for that matter. I wonder if this is related to spirituality in a secular sense?


Mary C. Schaefer  |  01 Jun 2016  |  Reply

Hi John. I love our “spirited” exchanges :)

I’m going to take our discussion offline because I’m wanting to stray from the topic and it doesn’t necessarily belong here. I will private message you on LinkedIn.

My Best,

Page Cole  |  01 Jun 2016  |  Reply

“Then, seek to see employees in their wholeness”…

BEST ADVICE OF THE WEEK! Understanding that our team members are complex human beings, with mental, emotional, spiritual and physical aspects that weave together to make this amazing and unique person… it’s critical… it’s right… it’s the human thing for us to do as leaders! Well done sir!

John E. Smith  |  01 Jun 2016  |  Reply

Thanks, Page – since I consider you one of the “holistic” folks here, this is welcome praise:)


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