If you’re a runner and had a race calendar planned out for 2020, it probably fell apart sometime mid March to early April. Races postponed, postponed again, or outright cancelled. It’s sad, but a reality we all face.
The half marathon I’ve run every year since 2011 was initially postponed from May to August 29th. I planned to run it with a close friend who’s never ran a half before and was looking forward to helping her achieve her milestone. Well, with the rise in COVID cases, it too was cancelled this week. The race company that puts it on offered a few options, including a virtual run. Still get your swag, medal and a jacket! I’m in.
When my friend asked what we should do, I told her the race was cancelled, but our run was not. Keep training and on August 29th at 7:30, we’ll set off on a 13.1 run. We’re doing this!
As I read the online forums, there were a number of different reactions to the race cancellation. Most were understanding and supportive of a virtual run or deferring until 2021. Some were outraged. Others, indifferent.
But one comment stuck out; “I’ve done all this training and I should run this virtually! How am I supposed to run if no one’s there to cheer me on?”
Obviously, others noticed as well. Some runners slammed her for the comment. Others agreed. Some offered suggestions to get people on her route to cheer.
At first, even I was like “What the hell! Get out there and do it.” But the more I thought, the more I took a step back and looked at it from her point of view. Obviously, her motivation comes from extrinsic factors, whereas I know I’m intrinsically motivated. Even though the race was cancelled, I was going to run it anyway.
Why is it important to know the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation? As a leader, you’ll work with teams comprised of individuals. And because each person is unique, a one size fits all approach to motivation won’t work. Let’s look at each a little more.
Intrinsic Motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when you engage in something because it’s rewarding to you personally. You do this for its own sake rather than a reward. In the running example, there are many, myself included, that want to just get out there and run. No one knows you’re out there. No onlookers. No medals. No selfies. Just two feet and a pair of shoes. The only reward we may get is achieving a fast time, essentially beating ourselves and the previous record we once held.
Extrinsic Motivation. Extrinsic motivation occurs when you engage in something to earn a reward or in some cases, avoid punishment. You may not enjoy the activity, but do it in order to get something in return. Continuing on running, these people may want onlookers to cheer and tell them good job. They want the medal and the half banana at the finish. Lots of selfies and likes on social media. Acceptance by someone who said you’d never do this.
Let’s move this to the work setting. Usually, my team is a mix of motivation styles. One is not better than the other and they’re both important. Using both at the same time can yield great results. Those team members with a passion for what they do will be intrinsically motivated. They love the challenge of the project and want to know their contribution is making a difference. But, that won’t pay the mortgage. They need that extrinsic motivation (a salary) to compliment the internal drive. For those team members who like extrinsic motivation, a salary is great, but they also want recognition, usually more public, and maybe a bonus/gift of some sort. But, don’t make extrinsic factors the only reason someone show up for work.
One extrinsic motivator that backfires is threats. I was leading a team where our VP of technology came and said “If you don’t deliver, you’ll all be looking for new jobs!” That is extrinsic motivation to avoid punishment! Yes, we got the job done, but we really didn’t like the VP and it wasn’t long before people left the company. Extrinsic motivation to avoid punishment.
So as you move forward to either lead a team, run a race, tackle a new project, or whatever challenge you face, remember how you and others are motivated. Understand one’s not better than the other despite which direction you lean. Together, these motivators make a strong force!