Motivation: Take it personally

  • Published
  • By Maj. Darrell Williams
  • 394th Combat Trainign Squadron
After reading the article, it led me to ask another question: What if duty, honor and country weren't enough to motivate a person to perform "above and beyond?" 

What are the "little things"? 

It may sound cynical, but what if an Airman is looking for another kind of motivation other than duty, honor and country? How do we motivate our Airmen in this time of lower budgets, less people and duties that take us around the globe?

Many leaders, non-commissioned officers and officers alike, are given formal training in leadership and motivation. Typically, this training is done in the classroom, whether in Airmen Leadership School, the NCO academies or the big three officer training environments. We discuss how, as a leader, you must use your resources efficiently for the mission and find out what drives your people to get it done. 

Outside of formal training, real life sets in and you must get your "hands dirty" digging for the gold nuggets of leadership skills that work for you. It's called experience. It may not be formal training, but it's a necessary part of your growth as a leader. A large part of that experience is finding out what motivates your airman to go above and beyond or even to keep going day after day.

I've simplified the types of motivation into two groups that can help you find out what tools you can use for your Airmen. The two types, on a broad scale, are internal and external motivators. Internal motivators are, of course, within us -- whether it's pride, confidence or any "feeling" we get when we're recognized for our efforts. Internal motivators are intangible and subjective. Personal pride and respect for the job and your fellow Airman are good examples. You can't see them except in action and you can't touch them except when a plaque or medal is given. 

An NCO once said that displaying your awards wasn't showing off, but showing pride in both the mission and yourself that you would give more than the norm. Internal motivators are also long-term in nature. Being "Airman of the Year" or getting a medal extends well beyond the "salute and a handshake" you receive. It's a bullet on your performance reports. It's a line on your promotion record. It can also be a line on your resume when you decide to move onto civilian life. In short, you carry it with you everywhere.

External motivators are the things from outside sources. They are often tangible, such as cash or prizes (coupons, gift cards, etc). It could also be a day off. These are things that you are given directly and used in the short term. Externals don't last, once you've taken the day off, it's gone. Your gift card comes with a limit. Most of us don't put how many days off we were given on our performance reports or resumes. You don't tell your next supervisor or commander how you got an Applebee's gift card for dinner for staying late for a few weeks. But, nonetheless, some Airmen do want those things, and that is where the personal side of motivation comes in.

Which one do we as leaders use? Well, you're thinking to yourself, that's easy, just get to know the people who work for you. True, but you're only half right. You must also know the situation. Would you give a day off to someone who feels that he/she will have three times the amount of work to do when they return and can't afford the day off? Or how about giving a gas card or Applebee's gift card to an Airman who doesn't have a car? It sounds extreme, but maybe the Airman would rather be put in for an award or decoration. At least he/she doesn't have to find a ride to use it. Many supervisors don't take the time to find out because they want to be fair across the board. So they give everyone the same thing or they don't have time to figure it out and it's just easier to throw the person a day off rather than write up a decoration. If you don't take the time to get to know your people and what they do, that isn't very fair to them.

In the end, motivation is a personal choice. If you want to be an effective leader, learn about your people and their situation before you decide what to give them. On the flip side, be a good follower and let your supervisor know what motivates you and when. I've heard both types; "I could really use a day off to recharge." Or "I just want to do well because that's how I am -- I take pride in doing a good job." 

It doesn't take much to find out what a person wants if you're willing to ask and willing to listen. As a leader, you do a disservice to your Airmen if you don't get to know what motivates them. As a follower, you don't help yourself if you don't let your leaders know. My father, a retired technical sergeant, once told his people, "We can do it together or we can do it the hard way." 

People have a knack for learning the hard way, but no one wants to work that way. We work together, motivate each other and share the workload in protecting this great country and our way of life.