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Learning Leadership: Leadership Skill Set 3: Self-Motivation

A fundamental requirement of leaders is the ability to motivate. A leader must lead by example by first motivating himself. Once that’s been accomplished, a leader can then work to motivate others through the art of emotional intelligence.

The five core skill sets of emotional intelligence empower frontline leaders to become more effective and efficient in achieving personal and team objectives. In the February issue of iP, you learned about self-awareness and the importance of becoming more cognizant of your thoughts and emotions. In the April issue of iP, you learned how critical self-regulation is when combating distracting and disruptive thoughts and emotions. Now, let’s build on those lessons with an in-depth look at motivation, the third skill set of emotional intelligence.

When we talk about motivation, we are really talking about emotions. Both share the same Latin root word “movere,” which means “to move.” Emotions are scary at times. Most of us struggle to understand our own thoughts and emotions; trying to understand what others are thinking and feeling is even more complicated.

In order to be successful in today’s business environment – and in your personal life – you must learn to care about what matters to those around you who matter most. This is no simple task yet the responsibility remains. You must develop new skills that keep you constantly alert to what motivates you – the details and drama that stir your emotions and push you to go above and beyond what is expected of you.

It’s important to clarify that motivation is a long, wide, tall and very, very deep subject. This article focuses specifically on your personal accountability as it relates to motivation, the responsibility you have to learn to better lead yourself, your family and your enterprise.

Understanding the Inside
If you are serious about becoming a better leader, you must learn how to stir up positive emotions within yourself, then teach that skill to others. Did you know that when you become motivated – when you experience emotional intensity – your heart rate increases, your breathing shortens, your muscles tighten and you may break out into a subtle sweat above your brow? Science has revealed so much about what’s going on inside your body as your internal chatterbox – more formally known as self-talk – rambles throughout the day. If you can tap into your chatterbox, you can determine exactly what motivates you. This is where we validate self-awareness, the first emotional intelligence skill set. Your awareness of your thoughts and emotions will increase your understanding of what motivates you.

Your chatterbox constantly repeats words and mental images that stir desire and emotion within you. It’s up to you to get your internal chatter in line with what personally motivates you. Master this and you will develop your skill sets for the next two emotional intelligence competencies – social awareness and social persuasion.

Lacking Motivation
When you lack personal reasons to become positively motivated, negative thoughts and emotions are likely to take over your chatterbox. To find what internally motivates you to do something and meet your goals, you must learn to look deep within yourself. For example, if you like to go fishing, take time for personal reflection and seek to understand exactly what it is, in detail, that you like about fishing, then commit your findings to writing.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn stated that “success is a refined study of the obvious.” By routinely analyzing your behaviors, fears and desires, as well as your life experiences, you can determine how to use the information gleaned from these analyses as positive motivation to lead you down the road to success.

Researchers have documented what happens when people fail at the critical task of finding personal motivation – they run the risk of acquiring afflictions such as hypertension, high blood pressure and ulcers because they approach life from a negative standpoint. However, those who have found personal motivation are able to deal with problems by working to find solutions, leading to better mental and physical health.

Mastering Self-Motivation
Following is a summary of the basic self-motivation skills and abilities as defined in the continued studies of emotional intelligence. You can use these as personal goals and as motivation to become a better leader.

1. Achievement Drive
Definition: Striving to improve or meet a standard of excellence. People with this competence are results-oriented with a strong drive to meet their objectives and standards; set challenging goals and take calculated risks; pursue information to reduce uncertainty and find ways to do better; and learn how to improve their performance.

2. Commitment
Definition: Aligning with the goals of the group or organization. People with this competence readily make personal or group sacrifices to meet a larger organizational goal; find a sense of purpose in the larger mission; use the group’s core values in making decisions and clarifying choices; and actively seek out opportunities to fulfill the group’s mission.

3. Initiative
Definition: Readiness to act on opportunities. People with this competence are equipped to seize opportunities; pursue goals beyond what’s required or expected of them; cut through red tape and bend the rules when necessary to get the job done; and mobilize others through unusual, enterprising efforts.

4. Optimism
Definition: Persistence in pursuing goals even when faced with hardships and hurdles. People with this competence seek to meet goals despite obstacles and setbacks; operate from hope of success rather than fear of failure; and see setbacks as due to manageable circumstances rather than personal flaws.

Tips and Techniques
One of the greatest challenges with any new instruction is applying the ideas you’ve learned to your real life. Below are a few quick tips, techniques and attitudes that will aid in your developmental journey.

2 vs. 4 Leadership Attitude
You are responsible to your individual team members – not for them. Help each member learn what motivates them and tie these motivators into successful job performance. In terms of safety, you are responsible for providing training, PPE and a multitude of other resources to team members; each team member is responsible for making wise, safe decisions.

Six-Cylinder Technique
Life works better when you compartmentalize thoughts and tasks. The six-cylinder model helps you look at different aspects of your own life to seek out what motivates you. The six cylinders are career, family, financial, health, social and spiritual. First use this model to start taking personal inventory, then use it when evaluating what motivators exist for each of your team members.

External vs. Internal
Members of today’s workforce – particularly members of younger generations – value more than external motivators such as money, power and position; they seek careers that align company performance and personal values including work-life balance, flexibility and recognition. If budgets are tight or tapped out, seek to use time as a way of motivating behavior.

Control the Chatterbox
There are 86,400 seconds in this day and the voice in your head has a thought for every second. Pay attention to your chatterbox and you will soon determine what motivates you. It’s worth taking notes about the chatter that pops up often, also referred to as repetitive thought. Those who work in the safety field should take notes when the chatter revolves around taking shortcuts or creates pressure to complete tasks at a faster pace. When someone is skilled at their work, yet faces external demands, the chatterbox is the last line of defense in motivating safe behavior.

Drill Down
The brain is already preprogrammed for security and safety; the goal is to build unity among the team by drilling down and sharing the personal reasons why each person works safely. Each individual has their own level of risk-taking when it comes to making decisions. Compound this with any number of hazards, and there are very specific reasons why we must encourage each team member to keep their mind on their task and surroundings. Your ability to encourage yourself and others is based on these internal motivators. You must learn to drill down within yourself and each member of your team to determine the personal reasons why someone will be motivated to work safely. We’re all motivated by life, limbs and family, but look deeper and be more specific about your motivators. When working with others to discover their reasons, don’t assume everyone is motivated by the same thing. Creating opportunities to talk and share is what strengthens the bond of unity needed for safe, productive, quality teamwork. Also, don’t assume every individual knows or understands what motivates them – many people are not emotionally intelligent and don’t strive to develop the skill sets discussed in the Learning Leadership series. This is where your newfound leadership skills can be transferred to someone else, the very definition of leading by example.

Personality Profiles
The study of personality styles will develop your understanding of what motivates you and, more importantly, why you act the way you do. Since most conflict is the result of different personality styles interacting, this wisdom can be used in your personal and professional relationships as a way to identify and bridge personality gaps. To take your own complimentary personality snapshot that will help you better understand your style, visit

Your lesson objective is to study each skill set of emotional intelligence, and the Learning Leadership series is just part of your educational journey. To truly become emotionally intelligent, do your research – read, listen to audio books and do everything you can to develop new ideas with the intent of improving your critical thinking skills. By exposing yourself to these new ideas and learning new skills – along with practicing patience and perseverance – you will experience improved results in leading yourself, your family and your enterprise, in that order.

About the Author: Parrish Taylor is the author and instructor of Mental & Emotional Training (M.E.T.), a skills development program. He has successfully implemented workforce development strategies within the electric utility sector for numerous clients including Entergy, Cleco and Oklahoma Gas & Electric. To learn more, visit Taylor has also served as an adult learning consultant for the last 20 years. Learn more at

Editor’s Note: “Learning Leadership” is a series dedicated to the human side of doing your job well. Each article in the series will help readers develop a greater understanding of the mental and emotional skills necessary to succeed in today’s workplace. If you have comments about this article or a topic idea for a future issue, please contact Parrish Taylor at 866-487-2815 or

Leadership Development