Hundreds of years ago, it was already clear to the likes of Da Vinci that the search for a Perpetuum Mobile was futile. More energy is always necessary to keep the movement going. However, that cannot be the case when it comes to yourself as a leader. No amount of extrinsic factors trumps intrinsic motivation. The best leaders I’ve worked with were those who were continuously pushing themselves forward, welcoming every new day and challenge with curiosity and alacrity.
Perpetual motion here means that one should continually improve and strive to improve. Are you on the lookout for new ways of doing things? How are you pushing yourself to grow?
If, when you’re looking back at the year so far, you cannot spot where you’ve made genuine progress or can tell that you’re suffering from a lack of motivation—stop wasting time. Life’s too short. Here’s a straightforward tool I regularly use to assess what’s going on in these situations.
Debugging Your Motivation
When considering where to focus attention to regain momentum, it’s helpful to pinpoint your current status. Let us consider two axes: your knowledge and your will. Knowledge is about how well you know how to do the things you currently ought to be doing. For example, if this is your first time in a leadership position, your knowledge might be on the low end. Your will is essentially how excited/eager you are to do what has to be done.
The wrong turn: In case you don’t possess the know-how and don’t feel like working on improving, you just might have made a bad decision or bet. Did you think going into management was something you had to do to progress? Perhaps you’re a technical cofounder that thought being a de-facto VP of Engineering is obligatory, but you should be gravitating more toward a CTO role. Admittedly, if your self-diagnosis puts you in this quadrant, you likely need to reconsider your position.
One caveat is when your lack of knowledge also induces fear and uncertainty, which prevent you from wanting to “risk it.” If that’s the case, you might see a significant improvement by getting help, like joining a mastermind group.
The refresh: When you know what needs to be done and how to do it, but you just don’t feel like it. I’ve seen this case many times, and unfortunately, it doesn’t bode well. As with the previous case, when there’s no will to improve—it usually means you need to change things up. If you cannot say there’s something in your current role that’s relatively straightforward, like a stressful quarter that you’re simply dreading because of the current financial climate, then consider “refreshing the CV,” as they say.
It just might be that this specific company isn’t a good fit for you, but that doesn’t mean you’re an awful leader. Similarly, sometimes companies change too much for one’s liking. Perhaps your “sweet spot” is getting companies to the B-stage; after that, things become too “big.” That’s fine. You might need to move on if you’ve simply exhausted this place.
The grasshopper: You are motivated to learn and improve but unclear about the proper steps ahead. This is a great place to be! If you always know what to do, you’re likely not growing. The only question that remains is how you are going to learn what you lack.
It is essential to make sure that you do get help and improve. Your goal shouldn’t be to “know it all,” but if you feel stuck, you might lose motivation and fall back to one of the other quadrants. This is a great reason to find a trusted advisor or join a community of peers.
The force multiplier: You’re on fire! You have a plan, and you’re off to execute it. What more could a leader ask for? However, do be mindful of the fact that things shouldn’t remain on “autopilot” indefinitely. Remember the Dunning-Kruger effect: you don’t know what you don’t know. If you’re always cruising, you’re not growing.
Some of my most impactful engagements were with clients who realized they were in this spot and wanted to ensure they were actively challenged to go from good to great. If you’re not leaving your comfort zone from time to time, you’re going to get ensconced in it!
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