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How You Lead Determines How Well You Lead

What motivates a person to lead? There are various possibilities such as duty, the greater good, personal/professional development, or pay. Tom Kolditz of the Harvard Business Review set out to discover which motivations had the most positive impact on the careers of West Point military graduates.

Inner Beats Outer

What Kolditz and his research team found was that those with internal, intrinsic motivations were far more likely to succeed than those with external, extrinsic motivations. What came as a surprise was that possessing even a few external motivations damaged the leadership potential of those with internal motivations. Even those who possessed just a few internal motivations outperformed persons with any that were external.

Incentives that Cripple

This insight can have real ramifications for organizations that hire and rely upon good leaders. For instance, when the Veteran’s Health Organization tried to incentivize its administrators with generous bonuses (extrinsic), their intrinsic motivation collapsed, leaving the organization to deal with a sudden leadership crisis. Robert McDonald, former CEO of Proctor and Gamble, knows this equation well:

“Living a life driven by purpose is more meaningful and rewarding than meandering through life without direction…”

There is a debate as to whether the proper way to teach leadership is through conferring it as a measurable competency, or through cultivating it as a set of values. Not surprisingly, Kolditz’s study found that leading from a sense of inner values outstrips any form of leadership that relies on instrumental means alone.

And though most businesses measure leadership outcomes instrumentally (as in, how much ROI and performance enhancement did we gain), Kolditz stresses the importance of allowing leaders to retain a sense of inner drive. When those leaders switch to the externals (pay, profits, shareholder value), their ability to lead is greatly compromised.

To read the full post, visit: http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/07/why-you-lead-determines-how-well-you-lead/

About Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master's degree in communications at Penn State University.

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