Impactful leaders know how to motivate and inspire their people

Impactful leaders know how to motivate and inspire their people.

Motivating people comes naturally to many leaders and managers.

No doubt you’ve found that relying on your instincts has served you well.

At least most of the time.

To be effective, and consistent, consider developing a working knowledge of motivational theory.

Consideration of expert frameworks will provide you with many new ideas. Blending these ideas with your existing knowledge will make your approach more successful.

The ability to succeed in motivating and inspiring others, particularly important in today’s complex and ambiguous world, will expand your impact as a leader.

Here is a brief description of three of my preferred models.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow published his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation" in 1943.

The model is most often shown as a triangle containing 5-8 levels or stages. Maslow theorized that humans progress through the stages in priority order. Each stage defines a level of human need with characteristic actions and behaviors.

Maslow later revised his view of humans moving through the stages sequentially, as he saw that human motivational needs are actually dynamic throughout adult life.

For leaders, it is this dynamic positioning of employees' motivations that is important. By understanding your employees' specific, and current motivational needs, you are able to better manage their work activities and deadlines in a way that provides greater fulfillment to each employee, and improved overall business performance.

The greater need for managing folks towards the lower levels of the hierarchy during uncertain times is a good example of this dynamism. We have all needed additional reassurance and time for personal wellbeing during the past two years of the pandemic.

The diagram below shows 6 of the levels Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The characteristics of those levels are described here.

Physiological - air, water, food, shelter, sleep

Safety - health, physical safety, financial security and emotional or psychological safety

Belonging & Love - family, friendship, acceptance, trust, and giving and receiving affection.

Social needs - Esteem from others through acceptance, respect, and recognition. Also, esteem from self through mastery of skills, confidence, independence, and freedom.

Self-actualization - the desire to become the best one can be and live up to and meet one’s potential.

Transcendence - the state of motivation that moves humans beyond focus on one-self, and to focus on 'others' through service. There is a spiritual aspect of this stage.

Diagram 1: Interpretation of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

There is a great article on Very Well Mind's website that you can connect to here to explore the topic further.

McClelland's Need Theory

A simpler model, McClelland’s Need Theory is also useful in workplace contexts.

McClelland’s framework proposes that all humans are driven by one of three motivating forces.

Achievement, power, or affiliation.

Most people will have some degree of all three, but it is usually one that dominates behavior.

Understanding the motivational drivers for your team members is helpful when assigning tasks. This includes which task you assign to each employee, as well as the context and framing you provide about those tasks.

I will share one quick interesting tale about this model.

While the concepts are relatively straightforward, your own bias can get in the way of how you see others.

In a Supervisor training class I took 20 years ago, I experienced one of my biggest ‘a-ha’ moments about gender bias.

The class was given an exercise. We were tasked to read through several short descriptions of fictional managers, and then assign a primary motivation.

The mocked up character descriptions were stereo-typical, and as a group, our exercise was fun, and our responses unanimous.

Until they weren't.

The class split into two groups, by gender, on one specific example.

The women in the room called out 'power' as the motivation, and the men in the room called out 'achievement'.

The fictional leader was described as a powerful man, proud of his station in life. He has a senior job title, an attractive spouse, drives an expensive car, and enjoys high status at his exclusive golf club.

What was so interesting for me was how we were split exactly between genders on this one.

As a female engineer in a male dominated environment at university and at work, I was not a stranger to gender issues. But, this was one of my first conscious experiences in understanding how my own gender bias worked.

If we are going to be successful in seeing the world through others' eyes, understanding and acknowledging the influence of our own biases is an important first step.

Cultivating diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace cultures, where everybody belongs, is important work. Developing a deep understanding of what motivates others, and ourselves, is important work that leaders must do to become impactful.

Daniel Pink’s Motivation Theory

In 2009, Daniel Pink published "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us."

In this book he proposes three important factors for intrinsic motivation. These are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Take a moment to think back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with these three concepts of Pink’s in mind.

You’ll see that autonomy, mastery, and purpose line up with the upper half of the triangle, in the ‘growth needs’ part.

Indeed, Pink discusses the fact that these three motivations become important once the issue of being paid enough is off the table.

I see this issue of being paid enough as lining up to the safety need (security of income) in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model.

Daniel Pink created a wonderful video with The RSA Animated group several years ago. Link here to watch this insightful, 10-minute clip.


  • Impactful leaders blend the knowledge of human motivational science with their own instincts. In doing so, they consistently apply best practices to motivate and inspire others.
  • Three models that are helpful in contemplating human motivation have been shared. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, McClelland’s Need Theory, and Pink’s Motivation Theory.
  • Be aware of your own filters and biases when determining motivational needs of others.
  • Consistent, intentional approaches lead to more motivated, more fulfilled, and happier employees.
  • Greater business performance outcomes can be expected when employees are motivated, fulfilled, and happy.

Supporting you on your leadership journey,

Magenta Roads, Principal, Carla Santamaria

PS. Please share if you found this helpful.


Leadership, Motivating and Inspiring your Team, Motivational Theory

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