How To Stay Motivated As A Leader

Great leaders know they need to stay motivated. They need to have their head in the game and be willing to go to the front.

And yet there are times when we lack motivation. We want to give in and quit.

Image by Kenny Louie

Image by Kenny Louie

I’ve seen this time and again as a youth leader. We’ll bring new staff members on board only to see them slip away and drop out of their leadership position.

This dropping away happens from a lack of motivation. They’re no longer seeing what they once enjoyed and brought happiness to their lives.

Instead it’s become dull and drab. A burden to carry or toss away. It’s up to them but we see them giving up.

In The Importance of Discovering The Proper Motivation, I wrote that the proper motivation should be to help others become better. I still believe this.

We must have the motivation to help others succeed. Otherwise our work will be in pursuit of self desires.

Yet my theory on the proper motivation is evolving.

Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group which has more than 400 companies, said a profound thing when he talked about his motivation. Here’s what he said:

“My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long university education that I never had – every day I’m learning something new.”

Richard Branson’s motivation is more ME-centered than THEY-centered. And I’m beginning to agree with him.

Placing our motivation behind others can be draining. We’re looking for their approval. We’re looking for their change. We’re looking for things that they can do.

The problem is: We cannot change anyone. We can only change ourselves.

Can you see the conundrum this creates?

When we let our motivation become the act of seeing someone else change, we’re giving up the control of the motivation.

Instead, what if we let our improvement become the motivation?

We could let the challenge of growth push us forward. This way we’re able to control the motivation.

When we let our growth become the motivation, we’re able to measure how we’re doing.

We can see and control:

The new skills we learn

The exotic places we visit

The time we spend on self-improvement

The courses or training we’re willing to invest in

Letting our own improvement become our motivation allows for the possibility of huge growth. We can push ourselves forward with the drive to succeed. With the desire to learn. With the push to go the distance.

And with this motivation we can then use the skills and abilities we’ve learned to go out and help others improve their lives. We can show them the way to success. We can offer them the skills and training to succeed.

However, our motivation will not waver because they choose or do not choose to improve. We won’t drop out because we’re not seeing any growth in their life.

We know we’re improving and that was our motivation. So let your growth and the ability to share it help you stay motivated as a leader. Don’t let your motivation depend solely on the actions of others. That’s a sure way to kill your motivation.

Question: Do you agree? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I agree Joe. I am a fan of Herzberg’s two-factor theory when it comes to motivation. Basically, the things that motivate us are not the same things that demotivate us.
    Money does not motivate. If you take it away or if you do not have enough, it will de-motivate, but money is not a motivator. So money is just maintenance – like air.
    Personal growth on the other hand – you can survive without it, and in its presence you will feel increased motivation – which will translate to those you lead, giving an example to follow and setting the tone for the room.

    • Jon, thanks for sharing Herzeberg’s theory. It’s an interesting dichotomy, huh?

  • Motivation for personal growth often stems from Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”, and our need for self-actualization. If we are to “be all that we can be”, we need to continually improve ourselves!

    Ergo, I don’t think anyone should base their motivation solely on the actions of others, but on the actions of the self.

    • That’s what I was getting to Lorraine. The motivation has to come from within. If we rely on others to motivate us, we’re in trouble.

  • DS

    Our personal motivation is contagious, which in turn can create, kindle, and foster the same in others. If we’re looking to others for their approval, their appreciation, we’ll always be disappointed because we’re all human and fail.

  • Carol Peterson

    Very interesting line of thinking. I sort of agree that we’re the ones who must remain motivated rather than constantly trying to motivate others.

    Then again, I was profoundly influenced by the book, “Lead Like Jesus” where the whole emphasis is upon being a servant to others. I suppose you can extend your argument in that direction, saying that OUR motivation is to serve OTHERS by keeping our focus on Jesus.

    You’ve got me thinking this morning Joe…

    • Carol, glad to get you thinking. That’s the point of my writing!

      I think we can be influenced by others but it only goes so far. We’ve got to find ways to keep ourselves motivated or else we’ll begin to fall away.

  • Good stuff, Joe. I think we must be pushed in order to grow. One of my heroes is Herb Brooks, former hockey coach of the US hockey team. And he pushed his players – big time. They disliked him as a result. But it’s what forged the team together. Good stuff!

    • Dave, that’s awesome. Thanks for sharing the story of Herb Brooks.

  • This is a really great article i must say. I feel may it be any field you always need to stay motivated and keep on challenging yourself to succeed in life.

    • We do need to stay motivated George. How are you staying motivated as you lead?

  • “Being your own boss can be the worst job”
    My mission statement for 8 months has been, “Bring success to others”. I thought for a while that this is an appropriate and selfless statement. I believe it, and it moved me to act for others.
    I agree that motivation can be “me-centered”. My challenge is to see how far I can grow my influence to improve the lives of others. See what I did? My motivation is “us-centered”
    Thanks for the post. It challenged my thinking and brought out a new mission for me.

  • There are so many great leaders here in the blog world and in the podcast world (and in the book world) that help me stay motivated. Beyond these, I think it’s important for a leader to take times of sabbath to recharge. This will be a huge help in staying motivated as a leader.

    • Jon, great advice. We have to keep the off switch nearby so that we can rest & relax. I have found hobbies are a great way to do this (as evidenced by my latest blog post, lol).

    • You nailed it with a Sabbath Jon. We’ve got to take the time to get away and recharge.

  • Interesting perspective, and yes – I agree. If our happiness or success is dependent on how others react then we’ll be disappointed. All we can control is ourselves and our reaction to what happens to us. There is a lot of power (and freedom) in that.

    • Tom, I knew this post would draw some criticism because it’s a bit different than the standard leadership ideas being floated around. But it looks like you got what I was saying. There’s only one thing we can control, ourselves.

  • I totally agree. When we focus on growing and motivation our self it will pour onto the people around us. I want to be a leader who after talking or being around someone they feel inspired and motivated to do more. I know that starts with self-leadership. Great post Joe!

    • Thanks Dan! You’re well on your path to being a leader like that.

  • I really love how John Maxwell puts it in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth.

    “Motivation gets your going, but discipline keeps you growing.”

    Sometimes motivation just fails. Inspiration and energy are not there. The crowd is not cheering anymore. But there’s this one thing called Discipline, which is greater than the alternatives. Which is stronger than weakness and discouragement.

    It’s something we all must become masters of. To once and for all stay and live motivated.

    • That’s a great quote from John Maxwell. Thanks for sharing it!

  • David W

    I think you are moving in the right direction Joe, but I would challenge you to keep thinking and growing as you explore this idea. Ultimately your motivation cannot last if it comes from possible change in others, but it also will not last if it comes from within, from a desire to grow or to “do” anything. It will only be lasting of it is Christocentric – if the motivation is to please and glorify Christ. That was Paul’s motivation and I have come to appreciate that it is the only motivation that moves me long-term. As a missionary I have run into walls at various times and in various places where nothing within me wanted to stay the course, but I was reminded of the call of God and his overriding purpose in my life, and stuck with it. I am NOT saying one can or should try to earn God’s pleasure, but to look with a focused view at the cross that is before me, the precious, scandalous cross where I was given status as a son of God and welcomed into his family. As his adopted son, I will want to please him, and he is pleased when the Holy Spirit works change in my life.

    • Thanks David for your thoughts on the topic. You’re right, there’s a deeper motivator than ourselves or the results we see in others. This post was kind of the high-level, thought releasing post going through some feelings I had after reading the quote. It hit home as I’ve seen many leaders go astray after poor results from those they were leading.

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