After recently gaining my Prism Certification from SurePeople, I was struck by this thought: how do leaders who are particularly motivated by external validation bring their best?
Being recognized for one’s efforts is something that a lot of us enjoy, regardless of our position in a company. Not only is it nice to be validated, but when someone recognizes and rewards our efforts, our brains actually release dopamine which makes us feel happiness and satisfaction.
When a leader thrives from external affirmation, however, recognition can become a bit trickier. As a society, we expect leaders to offer recognition and rewards to their team rather than receive them. Leadership is often lonely, and for those leaders who are extrinsically motivated, this can be an even harder challenge to face. The natural energy derived from recognition may no longer be available.
This begs the question, is being an externally motivated leader a good thing? Let’s take a quick look at some of the pros and cons of this leadership aspect:
- When a leader is validated by the team’s success, they are likely to focus on unique retention strategies to maintain the team they have. Being externally validated could mean they will make the effort to know their team members on an individual level, which can be a positive cycle that improves retention rates.
- When a leader is motivated extrinsically, it could mean they will constantly strive to achieve things that allow them to continue receiving praise in their desired form (whether this be materially or socially). This mindset can promote consistent innovation and productivity and could become hardwired into teams so they constantly push the limits of creativity.
- When a leader seeks validation through the team’s approval, this can result in imbalanced decision making. There may be times where the leader makes a decision based on what they believe the team wants the outcome to be rather than the interests of the organization. While this approach can supply immediate validation and motivation, it can also have negative knock-on effects later down the line.
- A leader who is always striving to do more, achieve more, and be better is a great thing, but there is a balance to be struck. Pushing themselves and their team too hard to satisfy these extrinsic motivational needs can result in burnout and plummeting employee morale and productivity levels.
- External affirmation can sometimes be transactional. For example, a leader may put more effort into employees who offer affirmation and validation. This can lead to some staff members perceiving the leader has favorites, potentially fracturing team relationships.
It's a fine line to walk. On the one hand, if you are a leader who is motivated by affirmation, you may be a driver for innovation and have fantastic interpersonal relationships with your team. There are organic boundaries, however, that must exist between leaders and their direct reports to maintain an effective level of professionalism and ensure all members of the team feel evenly valued and included. Sometimes, needing this affirmation can blind a leader and result in some of the drawbacks outlined above.
If you feel that you are a leader who is extrinsically motivated, I think the most important strategy to enhance effectiveness is to establish balance. There are plenty of ways to feel validated and recognised for your contributions – whether this be through your team excelling, through getting your name published externally, or receiving recognition from stakeholders – but as a leader, you also need to have a sense of self-affirmation.
Working with a coach is a great way to find this balance. They can help identify what energizes you and how to effectively “recharge.” This allows you to maintain healthy boundaries with your team while still being approachable and considerate.
If you would like to discover your motivators and discuss how to best leverage them to improve your effectiveness as a leader, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org