Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Motivation - The Art of Autonomy

(This is a first of a three-part series on motivation.)

As a wildland fire leader, do you know what motivates your subordinates or do you unintentionally transfer what you prefer onto your subordinates or provide a one-size-fits-all approach to motivation?

In Daniel H. Pink's book Drive--The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink asserts that "Too many organizations--not just companies, but governments and nonprofits as well--still operate from assumptions about human potential and individual performance that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science."

Pink says institutions "continue to pursue practices such as short-term incentive plans and pay-for-performance schemes in the face of mounting evidence that such measures usually don't work and often do harm." Pink contends that people are motivated by a sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy (Self-Direction)

Freedom, as Pink shares, is inherent in American culture. This country was formed on the base of freedom. He believes that our basic nature is to be curious and self-directed but that something has flipped our default setting. "That something could well be management--not merely how bosses treat us at work, but also how the boarder ethos has leeched into schools, families, and many other aspects of our lives."

So instead of controlling people, he says we should reawaken a deep-seated sense of autonomy and move away from the con game of present managerial models providing freedom in the "civilized form of controls" called "empowerment" and "flexibility."

Giving individuals autonomy in the wildland fire profession may seem difficult, but there are times with autonomy over team may bring benefits such as higher productivity, less burnout, and greater levels of psychological well-being.**

Consider the following:
  • Have you taken the time to really get to know your subordinates--to know what motivates them?
  • Do you subscribe to what may be an outdated method of managing your people?
  • Do you know how to flip your own default setting?
  • Do you believe autonomy discourages or fosters accountability?
  • What can you do as a manager or leader to give your employees more autonomy--to act with choice?
  • Discuss when autonomy over team may be beneficial. How can autonomy fit into a team environment?

Allowing more autonomy in the workplace may require that managers and leaders understand their managerial default settings. Linda Hill and Kent Lineback discuss change and managing various paradoxes in their HBR blog post "To Be a Better Boss, Know Your Default Settings."

In part two of the series, we'll discuss mastery.


*Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive--The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books.

**Pink, Daniel (as cited in Deci and Ryan, "Facilitating Optimal Motivation and Psychological Well-Being Across Life's Domains," citing many other studies).

No comments: