internal motivation

by Chuck Chapman, Content Strategy Coordinator

One of the basic rules of remote leadership laid out by Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel in The Long-Distance Leader involves intentionally building trust. While that’s true for leaders of co-located teams too, remote leaders simply cannot micromanage from a distance. As shutdowns have forced more teams to work remotely, many leaders have had to adapt their styles because distance doesn’t allow them to “watch over” their team members.

That change in dynamic created some challenges for newly remote workers, too. Just as many bosses used micro-management as a default style, more than a few workers depended on the external pressure of being watched to stay productive. Now working at home with only internal motivation to guide them, they don’t know what to do.

How to develop more internal motivation

First of all, if this is you, don’t feel bad. You’ve got company. Our culture doesn’t really incentivize developing internal motivation, so it take most people well into adulthood (if at all) to develop their own ability to “light a fire.” Until then, it’s depending on parents, bosses and other authority figures to give us reasons to act.

If you’re struggling with that right now, here are some things you can do to start building that “internal boss” and start phasing out the need for outside forces to push you into action.

  1. Focus on a greater purpose. Why does your company exist? What is it that your product or service does for other people? It’s not just about money. Read your mission statement. How does your job fit into that greater purpose? It’s really easy to fall into the trap of working “paycheck to paycheck” and attaching our efforts to how we’re being rewarded financially. That’s not unimportant, but that alone can’t be the motivation for what you’re doing. That wears away fairly quickly. On the other hand, a clear vision and connection to a greater mission stands the test of time. That reason for being should be as strong after a decade of doing what you’re doing as it was on day one.
  2. Create routines and follow them. Kevin just finished a couple of blog posts about the importance of developing routines. Psychologically, an established routine is a way to attack procrastination head-on. Instead of waiting until “when I feel like it” to get started on a project, a well-established routine can get us into action even when we don’t feel like it. Without routines, we too often place ourselves at the mercy of external factors to push us into doing something. That outside force, whether it be a deadline or a complaint from a boss, customer or co-worker, inevitably brings stress with it. If you’re trying to lower your levels of anxiety, routines are a great place to start.
  3. Focus on others. It’s easy to stay stuck in our silos, thinking only about our job and our responsibilities. With that mindset, we remain unaffected when another part of the team is experiencing a challenge. We don’t chip in or help. We just keep our heads down and plod on with our own stuff. Then when we hit a rough patch, if that silo mentality is the established culture, we’re just as much on our own to solve the problem as we left our co-workers. That’s a less than optimal way to work, to say the least. When we get our heads out of our silos, we see how our work fits into the whole. That enables us to see what we can do to make others’ loads a little lighter. Could we have a little quicker turnaround on a deliverable we’re responsible for? Do we need to respond to emails or instant messages more promptly or in a different way? When we develop an awareness for others and their needs, we also develop an accompanying motivation to satisfy those needs.
  4. Tap into your own sense of meaning. This will be different for everyone, but it’s there. It’s along the same lines as the “bigger purpose” we talked about first, but this is even bigger than that. This is your “why.” Not the company’s, not the customer’s…yours. Why is it that you get out of bed every morning to do this job? Hint: It’s more than just a paycheck. It may be to provide for your family. It could involve some spiritual belief or principle. It might be out of a sense of work ethic you inherited. Or it could be a combination of any of these. Regardless, never lose sight of your own big picture. This will keep you motivated not only for your work, but for every area of your life.

We can’t expect to reach the fullness of our potential relying only on outside forces to motivate us. It’s up to each of us to develop our internal motivation. As remote workers, that’s an immediate need if we’re to become the remote teammates we need to be.

For more on becoming a great remote teammate, check out our newest learning program. It’s now available on-demand and in individual modules.

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