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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Topic: Understanding Motivation
Q: Has MRG researched the relationship between motivation as captured in the IDI and Dr. David Day’s work on Leader Identity?
A: We have not looked at this in our research, but it is an interesting question. Dr. Day’s work suggests that when a person identifies as a leader, they are more likely to be motivated to put in the work required to become a better leader. Becoming a better leader isn’t always easy, so being motivated is important. There is an advantage to understanding an individual’s drivers through the IDI to identify the framing that would motivate them to engage in leadership development.
However, I believe that where the IDI is most helpful to leader development is in increasing self-awareness. Dr. Day recognizes the importance of self-awareness in the leader development process because it allows leaders to identify areas and skills that need improvement. The IDI increases self-awareness in a different but equally important way. It allows a leader to identify what they are more and less drawn to. This will give them a better idea of which behavioral shifts will be more difficult and pose potential developmental roadblocks. On the other hand, it allows leaders to identify easier to reach goals that are better aligned with their motivational profile. This additional layer of self-awareness gives leaders the opportunity to create developmental plans they are more likely to stick to. – Maria Brown, Head of Research & Education at MRG
Q: How can leaders motivate teams around one purpose, knowing that everyone does not have the same motivation?
Q: Given what you’re saying, it sounds like “motivating a person” is not about building a fire under someone. It’s more about helping a person discover themselves and becoming intentional about that.
A: Here are Drew’s thoughts on these important questions about meeting differing motivational needs:
Q: Have you done any overlay work with the DiSC? It is so commonly used today and also touches on Motivation.
A: Here are Drew’s thoughts on how IDI and DiSC:
Q: Can you clarify distinctions among motivation, values and preferences (e.g., Myers-Brigg profiles)?
A: Here’s are Drew’s thoughts on those distinctions:
Q: How do attitudes and beliefs correlate with motivations and behaviors?
A: Here are Drew’s thoughts on those correlations:
Q: The motivational dimensions are dependent upon some definition of what motivation is. I’m not sure you have defined motivation except by defining the dimensions. What makes these dimensions valid?
A: Thank you for bringing this up. This is essential for understanding the value of the assessment. To understand the ways in which individuals interact with the world and make life choices, the IDI measures the underlying strivings for specific emotional payoffs:
- What we want to experience in our world
- Our attraction to specific emotional outcomes and corresponding experience
- Value we place on certain emotional incentives
These strivings reflect our motivational tendencies. Items in the IDI are framed in a way that identifies what people are drawn to and what makes them feel most satisfied. Here are some examples:
- I feel best when…
- I gain the greatest pleasure from…
- I feel most fulfilled when…
Each dimension reflects a related set of experiences, stimuli and situations that motivate people to different degrees.
As for the validity of the assessment overall, it’s an important question. The executive summary of the IDI technical considerations covers some of the origins of the assessment along with how the assessment has been validated against several personality and cognitive assessments. – Maria Brown, Head of Research & Education at MRG
Topic: Getting Clarity on the Assessments & Data
Q: Can you explain more about how to read the chart with numbers and correlations?
A: Correlation charts could probably have a webinar all their own! In this video, MRG’s Head of Research Maria Brown explains the correlation chart in more detail. (She explains several sets of correlations; the chart you saw in the webinar is the first one she discusses in this video.)
Q: Are the definitions for the behaviors in the in LEA 360 exactly the same as those in the IDI? (George Brown)
A: Drew explains the distinction between LEA behaviors and IDI dimensions:
Topic: Using the IDI with Teams
Q: In the team case study, what were the roles of the people on the team?
Q: How do you gain buy in for the team to share their results with others?
A: Drew clarifies some case study details and discusses possibilities for sharing results:
Topic: Understanding Applications
Q: I’m curious to know if/how correlations with LEA 360 behaviors are used in coaching engagements. It’s a big topic, I know, but maybe you have a few quick insights.
A: One of the reasons we find so much value in using the IDI and the LEA together is that the IDI provides deep yet accessible insights for internal self-awareness and the LEA 360 provides expansive insights in external self-awareness (how I’m perceived by others). As Drew shared in the webinar, there is no relationship between patterns of motivation and leadership effectiveness, so the goal in working with the IDI/LEA 360 combination is to ensure that the client is making the best use of their motivational preferences in order to achieve both effectiveness as a leader and personal satisfaction. There are very few significant correlations between the IDI and the LEA. This is because many different motivational preferences can be used to support any of the LEA behaviors. So rather than specifically work with the correlations between IDI and LEA, we explore the behaviors that may be more or less habitually compelling as a result of a client’s stronger motivational preferences and ways of utilizing the broader motivational profile to give the individual some options to work with. For example, a client may have a lower motivation to be creative, however that doesn’t mean that they will not be able to demonstrate the behavior of Innovative (from the LEA). Instead, as coaches we would look for other motivational considerations that might support the use of Innovative. For example, if the individual was motivated by engagement with others, then we explore team engagement methods for being more innovative.
When someone has a strong motivation for something that may lead to potential overuse of a behavior (for example a strong motivation to be generous, kind and caring may lead someone to overuse behaviors like cooperation and empathy) we talk about the importance of learning the distinction between the impulse to use a behavior that comes strictly from a motivational preference and the intentional use of a behavior that comes from the determination of what will yield the desired outcome considering the context and the other people involved. – Tricia Naddaff, President, MRG
Q: As a coach of high schoolers, they are not always necessarily mature enough to understand their motivations and how it affects their behaviors. How would you tailor this kind of topic to better reach younger people? (Katelyn Bittner)
A: Drew talks about how to make motivation work resonant for a younger audience: