Webinar Wrap-Up: Coaching from the Inside Out – How Understanding Motivation Benefits Coach and Coachee

Eager for answers? Jump straight to the Q&A.

Throughout a coaching career, you get to know dozens or even hundreds of clients. With each new coach/coachee relationship, there’s an “onboarding” period – a time when you and your client are learning how to understand each other, building a common language, and developing a clearer picture of their work and their world.

Coachees – especially those with a more developed sense of self-awareness – may be able to articulate effective descriptions of what they do – their behavior, decisions, reactions, and even their feelings. Things like 360 assessments or interviews can provide critical outside perspective. All of this input about what people do is crucial – but it doesn’t reveal why they do it.

Understanding motivation can be a key to unlocking deeper underlying drivers behind people’s behavior, illuminating things that even the most self-aware individual might not be able to recognize in themselves.

Last week, Andrew Rand, Ph.D., MRG’s I/O Psychologist, explored this topic in the webinar Coaching from the Inside Out: How Understanding Motivation Benefits Coach and Coachee. Read on for highlights from the webinar or watch the full presentation on-demand here.

Motivation: What it is and Why it Matters

“I feel like I come alive when I’m in front of a crowd.”

“Ugh, I hate asking other people for help – I’d always rather tough it out on my own.”

“Competition brings something out in me – even if it’s just a board game, I love to win.”

Do these sensations sound familiar? These are motivations – instincts that go beyond preferences but feel fundamental to who we are. In other words, your motivations are the things that drive or attract

And while some people can recognize or even articulate a few of these things on their own, comprehensive self-awareness of our own motivation is next to impossible.

4 Key Things to Understand about Motivation

  1. Motivational factors originate from the formative years and evolve slowly over time. While we may recognize our own behavior quite easily, some people are less in touch with these deeper underlying drivers.
  2. Many people will be surprised by how strong or weak some of their motivations are compared to other people’s motivations. It is truly difficult to have a fully objective view of ourselves.
  3. People with extreme motivations are very likely to underestimate this extremity. They may have normalized it to the extent that it becomes less evident to them.
  4. Motivation can conflict with itself. We often have mixed feelings or have drivers that interfere with each other.

Why Motivation is Relevant at Work

While motivation is personal in many ways, it’s easy to see how relevant it can be in the workplace, where leaders are navigating sometimes challenging professional relationships and making time-sensitive decisions – all influenced by their motivations. After all, none of us can isolate our emotions from our work world.

Individuals are increasingly seeking opportunities to be and feel authentic in their work, which means bringing more of their unique perspective to work.

That means perspectives on developing people are changing as well. The most evolved organizations are no longer looking to develop cookie-cutter leaders who mirror each other’s perspective, but instead to honor individuality and embrace the benefits of diverse approaches to leadership.

And while it’s easy to assume that certain motivations are universal – for example, that everyone is motivated by recognition or advancement – MRG data from years of motivational assessment indicates that motivations are far from universal. There is no “common” motivational profile, and motivations are not correlated with each other. Increasing awareness – both individually and organizationally – of the unique nature of motivation can offer a variety of benefits.

Consider some of the ways understanding motivation can help you, as coach, in an engagement:

  • Build faster rapport with your coachee
  • Seem smarter by making sharper perceptions faster
  • Get buy-in more easily from coachees who see and hear themselves reflected authentically
  • Get clarity on what your coachee values
  • Hear your coachee’s internal narrative
  • Build a foundation for your work
  • Allow you to hear and respond to them with more specificity throughout the engagement

Understanding motivation can also provide important benefits to the coachee:

  • Increase self-awareness
  • Recognize potential biases
  • Challenge their internal narrative
  • Learn to be more intentional with their decisions, reactions, and behaviors
  • Understand how they are unique relative to others

Measuring Motivation: How to Reveal What’s Below the Surface

Since motivation is unobservable, this naturally begs the question – how then do we come to understand it and incorporate it in coaching?

A well-designed psychometric assessment that measures motivation can reveal an individual’s unique motivational profile. At MRG, we use the IDI, an assessment we developed specifically to measure 17 motivational dimensions. (Learn more about the IDI here.) When selecting a tool to measure motivation, pay attention to how the questionnaire is formatted – a more complex questionnaire may be more cognitively taxing for the participant, but may also be more effective at getting beneath surface-level assumptions to reveal deeper motivational patterns.

Applications: Using Motivation when Coaching Individuals or Teams

Motivation can be incorporated in a wide variety of coaching, development, and consulting work. To take a closer look at specific applications, Drew looked at two examples from his recent coaching experience: working with an individual coachee to unpack interpersonal sensitivities and working with a team to explore their informational needs.

Case Study: Interpersonal Sensitivities

Recently, Drew coached Ron, a successful UX executive who had recently moved into a new role and was feeling underprepared. He had received feedback in the past that that he could display more confidence and that his approach is, at times, too deliberate.

Using the IDI as a foundation for the coaching process, Drew and Ron discovered a few key aspects of Ron’s motivational profile that could be creating sensitivity. In each case, they worked on being alert to – and challenging – his instinctive internal narrative.

  • His high RECEIVING score indicates he’s motivated to be in positions where support and collaboration are present; this could mean he is sensitive to feeling unsupported
    • Challenge the narrative: Examine the assumption that you are unsupported; is it possible that support is showing up in forms you’re not seeking or expecting?
  • His high GAINING STATURE score indicates he’s motivated to be validated and respected by the external world; he may be sensitive to feeling unappreciated or under-recognized
    • Challenge the narrative: Stop taking feedback personally; recognize and accept the value of feedback for what it is.
  • His high STRUCTURING score indicates he’s motivated by the structure, planning, process, and detail; he might be sensitive to feeling disorganized or messy
    • Challenge the narrative: Examine your tendency to be overly cautious about moving forward without a precise plan; don’t undermine progress in favor of perfection.

Key coaching questions:

  • How does this awareness reshape your thoughts about recent past events?
  • How can you reframe others’ behavior toward you?
  • Where do you feel you may be “lying to yourself?”
  • How might you use this awareness moving forward?

Case Study: A Team with Conflicting Informational Needs

In a recent engagement with a 5-person team at a non-profit organization, Drew used the IDI to reveal potential motivational conflicts surrounding a particular theme: Informational Needs. They generally worked well together but were looking for ways to improve their working relationships. Sometimes, they seemed to miscommunicate, mislead one another, or become too siloed because they were interpreting situations differently.

They were most concerned about how their similar ways of thinking may get them (and the organization) into trouble.

By looking at their IDI scores collectively in a few key areas, they were able to reveal several potential challenges.

You can watch the case study here to dig deeper into their challenges, and the questions they explored to reach a better understanding of each other.

Adding the Why to the What

There are many approaches to coaching that can be valuable and bring about enlightening insights. But in almost every case, incorporating motivation can enhance that approach. A mutual understanding of how an individual approaches their world can be a powerful unifying factor for coach and coachee.

The response to the webinar was overwhelming, with dozens of questions for Drew. He answered several during the broadcast, but there were many we didn’t have time for – read on for answers to those questions in our Q&A.

Q&A with the Experts

Q: You explained that people can be “lying to themselves” and understanding motivation can help reveal that. Can you explain in more detail?

A: Video answer from Drew

Q: What’s the “so what” for motivation? If it’s not actionable like behavior, what do we do about it?

A: Video answer from Drew:

Q: Can you clarify the definition of motivation vs values? What’s the difference?

A: Video answer from Drew

Q: You mentioned motivation is correlated with enjoyment in a role, not necessarily effectiveness in a role. Can you expand on that?

A: Video answer from Drew:


Q: You talked about a case where a team had two leaders, both highly motivated by “control.” Can you talk about how you handle that?

A: Video answer from Drew:

Q: Understanding motivation seems complex. Can you have a successful coaching engagement without it?

A: Video answer from Drew:

Q: In the team case study, you were looking at motivations related to informational needs – how does this relate to trust in others? And why did Mel, one of the participants, seem so high on general updates but low on other motivations?

A: Video answer from Drew:

About the author

Lucy is the Head of Marketing at MRG. She's a passionate people person who talks with her hands even when she's on the phone. She will not rest until everyone on earth has taken their IDI.

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