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The Power of Motivation at Work: More Choice, Less Ego

Motivation: More Choice, Less Ego

Motivation is at the heart of business. For decades now academicians have been researching and theorizing about what inspires optimal performance and energizes the workforce. Psychologist Abraham Maslow initiated the modern movement of motivation and performance improvement outlining his famous “Hierarchy of Needs” pyramid – citing the deepest, inspirational motivations at the very top after basic physiological, safety, and social acceptance needs were me.

Motivation is Complex

Motivating a workforce is complex; it is not one-size-fits-all. It requires listening, connecting, and building relationships. We differentiate ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivation, what ignites our soul and what pays the bills; we need them both. We critique effectiveness of leaders on how well they motivate their teams, and we expect leaders to be able to articulate a compelling purpose because it’s what drives people to go the extra mile and build the better idea.

In the past, I have outlined strategies to finding purpose at work. Many of these strategies also significantly impact motivation, i.e., including people in decision making, job crafting, and cultivating courage and safety. As mentioned previously, the six elements of the M6 Workplace Wellbeing model are related and overlap. This is good news, as working on one often has positive effect on others.

Motivation is Changing

As the world changes, so does work and expectations regarding the workplace. It stands to reason that what motivates team members is changing as well. Ego-driven, top-down approaches are being re-considered as are the need to sit in an office cubicle or the requirement for a 5-day work week. What are you willing to re-consider to attract and retain the best workforce? How can you motivate people to bring their best selves to the table?

“The mother of motivation is choice” — B. Burchard, The Motivation Manual

In my research, I found that the cornerstone themes of positive motivation are freedom, autonomy, choice, and psychological safety. People want to feel included, valued, and in control of their personal destiny. It is about having the freedom to push back without negative consequences, implement appropriate boundaries, and say “no” when necessary. Afterall, as Peter Drucker points out, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Below are some ideas that incorporate these concepts to stretch your thinking, pilot, and evolve; start with one or two; generate success and add more!

  • Diversify compensation options to ensure that what gets rewarded reflects the values of the organization. Add choice; explore creative ideas such as health care alternatives, reliable child care options, flexible work options, and contributions to charities of choice.
  • Use stretch goals to fuel inspiration and challenge people to leverage their strengths and perform at their highest potential while keeping achievement within reach. Chunk large projects into smaller goals and celebrate achievement of milestones along the way.
  • Define career plans that outline innovative pathways to growth including such practices as vertical pairing, strategic exposure, and intentional rotations. Grow ranges of skills and competencies in individuals, focusing on strategic thinking; avoid limiting cognitive entrenchment or over-specialization.[i]
  • Provide experience opportunities by sponsoring programs that take people out of their comfort zone, i.e., out of their culture. Being vulnerable expands perceptions, and builds empathy and trust. Also, encourage participation as leaders in industry associations and facilitating workshops or speaking at professional conferences.
  • Reward effort as well as results because organizations with cultures of innovation know that failure is a part of succeeding, especially when learning occurs. Drive creative ideas by recognizing noteworthy effort, learning, and resilience to get back up when a plan fails.
  • Give permission for self-care by encouraging and building in rest which results in sounder bodies, clearer thinking, and better decisions.[ii]
  • Align jobs with meaning/purpose by ensuring people know their ‘why’ that will carry them through challenging moments and help sustain the organization’s innovation when it is needed most. Understand the connection between each individual’s calling and the organization’s collective purpose with the understanding that purpose will evolve and grow as the organization does.[iii]
  • Ensure psychological safety to create an environment with higher performing teams and increased innovation.[iv]

Balancing Ego

It is hard for many leaders to set aside ego and live into the notion that they are not superior, more than, or better than other members on their team; everyone has their strengths which together make up a stronger whole. While no one is saying a leader should have zero ego, a healthy balance of humility, self-awareness, and appreciation of others is imperative to build a culture of freedom, choice, autonomy, and psychological safety.

Consider trying some of the strategies above, learn, tweak, and try again. Change sometimes starts small, and one thing leads to another; positive culture is a competitive advantage, not a passing fad.

“When asked about its importance, 83% of executives and 84% of employees rank having engaged and motivated employees as the top factor that substantially contributes to a company’s success” — Deloitte’s Cor Values and Beliefs Survey

Yet, 85% of adults worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work — Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2017 Report

For more on the M6 Model and my approach to coaching, take a look at my website and other blog posts about Life Coaching and Organization Development.

I would love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to contact me about coaching, and we can talk more about positive relationships and a culture of thriving! Share this post with friends you think my find this of interest!


[i] David Epstein, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (New York: Riverhead Books, New York, 2019, P 34) Cognitive entrenchment refers to becoming so competent at a specific skill within a specific process, that any deviation throws the expert off.

[ii] John Ratey, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008)

[iii] Aaron Dignan, Brave New Work (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019, P 64)

[iv] Amy Edmondson, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2019, P 40)

The Power of Purpose at Work – Meaning

The Power of Purpose at Work – Meaning

We discussed the Power of Movement in my last article, and now I continue to the next “M” in the M6 Workplace Wellbeing ModelMeaning. I am using meaning and purpose interchangeably here. Their relationship is symbiotic in that we derive meaning from purpose; or said another way, meaning lies within purpose.  On this basis, they are inextricably linked and may be mutually considered in my model.

The University of Michigan conducted a study to determine the potential relationship between purpose and risks of early death. Their findings were astounding. “. . . having a life purpose appears to be more important for decreasing the risk of death than whether you drink, smoke, or run on the treadmill four times a week.”[i]

People are looking for meaning not only in their personal lives, but in their work lives. This represents an opportunity for the workplace to clearly articulate their purpose and to build a culture where every employee understands their connection to the larger meaning.

Something Bigger Than Ourselves

Meaning is beyond the work itself; it is about the impact the work can have. This past March, Cristina Ibarra made a radical change in her restaurant in Juarez, Mexico.

“There started to be such a strong Cuban presence [in Juárez], I decided to stop selling tacos so that I could start feeding the Cubans,” she said. Cristina saw both an opportunity and a calling as the city experienced an influx of Cuban immigrants patiently waiting for clearance from the US government. She has since built a place that is a . . . “haven for the Cuban community as they deal with the uncertainty of living in a foreign land and an increasingly complex immigration landscape.”[ii]

The bright colors and Cuban flags draw customers from the local hotels and provide some sense of home and community where people can talk, laugh, and be nourished; and she says, “. . . that gives me tremendous satisfaction right now.” Her Cuban staff contributes to the authentic menu and offers more than food; they are providing a caring hospitality and at the same time finding meaning in their work.

“A Purpose Economy organization creates purpose for its employees and customers – through serving real needs, enabling personal growth, and building community. . .  It makes the creation of purpose their imperative, even if they struggle at times to realize their values and vision.” — Aaron Hurst, The Purpose Economy

So, how can the workplace help with this?

Here are a few examples of ways organizations can help build meaning at work:

  • Provide opportunities for employees to help others.
    • Through benefits – A large multinational professional services company allows employees to transfer unused PTO (Paid Time Off) to their colleagues whose circumstances require them to be away from work more days than they have PTO. Employees feel good about being able to help someone else, and research has shown that the person doing the giving receives as much, or more, of the positive brain response than the receiver. Additionally, when someone observes a good deed, they also get a brain boost. This is called elevation.[iii]
    • Through results – Sallie Krawcheck grew her successful woman-centered investment firm called Ellevest with one main purpose: to unleash “. . . women’s financial power and get them invested in their biggest goals.” The people she employs find meaning and a sense of purpose in impacting their clients to achieve positive results in the male-dominated financial industry.
    • Through the supply chain – This may be achieved through using people-conscious sources or environmentally friendly components. Fashion brand Eileen Fischer set goals that are audacious by fashion-industry standards. Their pledge is to use all organically grown cotton and linen and environmentally-conscious dyes by 2020. Since 2005, they have built an alternate source of Peruvian hand-knitted sweaters by promoting a network of in-home factories that employ talented local women as well as investing in the Handloom Project which empowers weavers in India.
  • Be people-centered . . . really.
    • Include people in decision-making. Organizations that value collective insights have been shown to make better decisions while empowering people and developing them to understand how to make good choices – they have ownership. When this happens, people stay longer and bring their best selves to work.
    • Practice job crafting. One person’s interests are another’s bane, so enabling responsibility “swapping” can create jobs people look forward to and at which they excel.[iv]
  • Cultivate courage and safety. The truth is that we cannot grow into our purpose as individuals or organizations without making ourselves vulnerable and allowing ourselves to stretch beyond what we’ve always done. When we encourage vulnerability, there is an expectation that someone has our back – that we are politically and emotionally safe. Learning through failure is particularly powerful — hard lessons are memorable.

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.”

— Brené Brown

  • Use technology wisely. We are gaining a better understanding of the impact of technology and the expectations around it. Author and MIT professor Sherry Turkle has researched the phenomenon of escalating loneliness and isolation when we are, ironically, more “connected” than ever.[v] At the same time, we are discovering that technology also has the power to help us interact in more meaningful ways, i.e., connecting via “face-to-face” apps (WhatsApp, FaceTime, etc.) with people we would otherwise not see, as well as through sharing-tools that allow us to include more remote voices through direct contributions to documents and ideas.

 “We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.” — Brené Brown

The Impact of Meaning at Work

Meaning is a key component of a workplace of wellbeing which enables people to feel connected, valued, and included which encourages thriving and growth. It creates a culture where people want to stay, inspires better performance, and it initiates new thinking and better decisions. All good for our individual and collective wellbeing . . . and not to mention, the bottom line.

What practice will you and your team start today?

For more on the M6 Model and my approach to coaching, take a look at my website and other blog posts about Life Coaching and Organization Development.

I would love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to reach out to me at karen@nobleconceptsinc.com, and we can talk more about building a culture of thriving! Share this post with friends you think may find this of interest!


[i] Goleman, D., The Hidden Fountain of Youth (https://www.kornferry.com/institute/having-purpose-lifespan)

[ii] https://www.npr.org/2019/07/30/741936652/a-taste-of-cuba-pops-up-in-ju-rez-mexico

[iii] Haidt, J., The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (New York: Basic Books, 2006) p195.

[iv] Dutton, J. E., & Wrzesniewski, A., “Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work” (Academy of Management Review, 26: 179-201.)

[v] Turkle, S., Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2011)

The Powerful Mind-Body Connection – Movement

Five Ways to Build A Movement Practice at Work

My last article outlined the Power of Mentoring, and now I move to the second of the six “M’s” in the M6 Workplace Wellbeing ModelMovement. This one is near and dear to my heart as I am a physically active person who loves playing hard with friends and teammates. I swim, bike, and run as a triathlete who competes for the fun of it and to support others. Having a race schedule keeps me focused; it is easy for me to prioritize other things over training and end my days “without time to exercise.” Who hasn’t said that at some time?

Living in Busy Times

We are only beginning to understand the immense impact the age of technology and free-flow access to data has on our lives. People predicted technology would simplify our environment with less paper in the workplace; streamlined processes; better, more informed decisions; fewer meetings, and, basically, more time for “time-off.”

While we certainly have more data at our disposal and nearly everything is now electronic, we are hardly less scheduled; and few companies embrace more time off for its employees as a norm. Instead, we are faced with schedules that leave us gasping for air as we move from meeting to meeting, wondering when we will get our “real” work done, leaving little time for fun, volunteer commitments, or the family that may also be woefully overscheduled.

It’s been said that busy-ness is to this generation what smoking was to previous generations – a health-threatening habit of massive proportion.

So, how does moving more help solve these worries?

The truth is that moving is essential to activate the brain and maintain consistent energy which humans need in order to work at their potential and make the best decisions. If fact, movement, “. . . impacts mood, anxiety, and attention; . . . it guards against stress and reverses some of the effects of aging in the brain.”[i]  When your body is out of balance, your mind is out of balance.

Movement, just like the cell wall, the mitochondria, the cytoskeleton, and the nucleus, is a part of every working cell. Cells don’t work without movement, and you aren’t fully operational without all of your cells working well. The movement of a part today is what affords it the ability to move tomorrow.”[ii]

Exercise increases growth of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which stimulates new neuron growth and increases the ability to remember and learn while lowering the impact of stress on the body. It expands our cognitive flexibility, or ability to shift and think “out-of-the-box” rather than provide the same mindless responses. This trait “correlates with high-performance levels in intellectually demanding jobs.”[iii]

Leveraging the Power of Movement

Adding movement to your workplace culture has the opportunity to literally change the way people think and the quality of important decision-making. Picture your workplace with less depression and anxiety, happier people, and more effective meetings – in short, where people work wisely.

Every expert I talked with or read agrees on one thing – start with something. If the entire workplace culture isn’t ready to support the science behind the efficacy of a movement-focus, start with one thing on one team. Here are examples of eight behaviors anyone can easily encourage, from a team leader to the CEO:

  1. Walk a lot. Schedule moving meetings whenever possible. Walking and talking is not optimal for all meetings; however, if the objective is to check-in or talk strategy, you may be well-served by stimulating the brain with activity. Beyond walking, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is especially conducive to energizing brain activity.

“If you have an important afternoon brainstorming session scheduled, going for a short, intense run during lunchtime is a smart idea.”[iv]

  1. Understand a deeper WHY for incorporating movement into daily work life. Change attitudes about moving from “having to exercise” to valuing it is a gift.[v] Change the focus from, “I have to lose weight,” for instance . . . to, “It energizes me to walk during lunch with friends.”
  2. Find OTMs (opportunities to move) and ‘stack’ your work life. Stacking, as defined by K. Bowman in her book Movement Matters,[vi] is about achieving multiple desired outcomes in the same block of time. It can be fun to engage the team to think creatively about incorporating movement into everyday tasks, i.e., stretch or twist at the copier, stand up at the back of a meeting occasionally, practice innocuous yoga moves at the desk while on a conference call, take the stairs, ensure the printer is far enough away to require standing up – you get the idea. Everything counts.
  3. Stand up a lot – at least once every 30 minutes.[vii] This particular advice is from Joan Vernikos whose job at NASA is to keep our astronauts healthy within the effects of zero-gravity. In studying zero gravity, she has become an expert on what keeps people fit here on earth, and her finding is basic – stand, squat, kneel – in short, alternate your body position frequently.
  4. Incorporate a sense of fun/play using improv techniques; it encourages movement and builds trust. Identify a handful of “energy breaks” that allow people to quickly reactivate; incorporate them into meetings of more than 30 minutes.

The new science around the importance of movement is incredibly powerful knowledge for organizations – by valuing and encouraging movement in the workplace, we are able to improve our ability to generate new thinking, to be creative and innovative, and to inspire healthier, more resilient people.

“The top 5% of all high performers are 40% more likely to exercise at least three days per week than the 95% below them.”[viii]

Movement is a key component of a workplace of wellbeing which enables people to connect body and mind to thrive and grow. It energizes the brain and fosters innovation and creativity – it creates a culture where people feel valued and want to stay, and it initiates new thinking and better decisions. All good for our emotional and physical wellbeing . . . and not to mention, the bottom line.

What one movement practice will you and your team start today?

For more on the M6 Model and my approach to coaching, take a look at my website and other blog posts about Life Coaching and Organization Development.

I would love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to reach out to me at karen@nobleconceptsinc.com, and we can talk more about building a culture of thriving! Share this post with friends you think may find this of interest!


[i] Ratey, J., Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008)

[ii] Bowman, K., Movement Matters: Essays on Movement Science, Movement Ecology, and the Nature of Movement (Propriometrics Press, 2016)

[iii] Ratey, J., Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008)

[iv] Ratey, J., Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008)

[v] Segar, M. No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness (New York: Amacom, 2015)

[vi] Bowman, K., Movement Matters: Essays on Movement Science, Movement Ecology, and the Nature of Movement (Propriometrics Press, 2016)

[vii] Vernikos, J., Designed to Move: The Science-Backed Program to Fight Sitting Disease and Enjoy Lifelong Health (Fresno: Quill Driver Books, 2016)

[viii] Burchard, B., High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way (Carlsbad: Hay House, Inc. 2017)

Play – a Powerful Builder of Belonging!


I was sitting at my desk one dark and rainy afternoon working on a project when the school bus pulled up at the bottom of my street; I live on a steep hill. My neighbor met her two young children with an umbrella for each to make the trek up the slope to their home.

Not five minutes later I saw little India running around her front yard, her umbrella abandoned. I watched as she danced down the street and into my yard, around the grassy area, and back up the middle of the blacktop road. Her head was tilted upward toward the heavens, arms stretched to the sky in a universal symbol of something good and happy . . . victory! . . . a feeling of something bigger than oneself. India ended her romp with a soggy roll down her sloping lawn; her smiling mom greeting her on the big, covered front porch with a white, fuzzy towel.

I stopped to remember the joy of being a child with its energetic celebration of imagination and the days of innocent, active play. I wanted to grab my rain coat and dance alongside my free, artful little neighbor and roll into the arms of someone who loves me like that. What happened to this freedom to laugh and experience joy in the moment? Do we teach our children to “grow up” and “act like adults” to their detriment? Do we allow ourselves to have fun and play with family and colleagues we live and work with? What are the possibilities if we add that sense of joyful play back into our lives?


In my work as a personal and executive coach, my clients and I often have reason to discuss how work and personal time are no longer easily separated with the advent of all-knowing and often intrusive technology. This hyper-accessibility is not the same as belonging, but rather, results in feeling owned and not in control of oneself. I find people are wistful for a time and place when they felt they really belonged . . . to a point in the world or in a workplace where they were valued . . . as an appreciated member of their family or a team, or as the other half of a loving relationship – one they got to choose.

The problem with belonging is that it is not a tangible, “packagable” thing that we can save or hoard; it changes even as it is defined and claimed. How we belong and what we bring to the belonging is constantly evolving, and we must bend and open ourselves in new and unexpected ways.

This brings me to the value of play. While we don’t often identify what we do as “play,” we may want to explore it more intentionally as a powerful connector and creative change agent. One of my workplaces actively touted the old adage “Work hard. Play hard.” While the intent was good, it wasn’t always executed in a healthy, inclusive manner. Some ended up being “in on the play” and others “out;” and sometimes the “play” was downright destructive.

I am defining play here as having fun doing something together that does not involve any discussion of work. It embodies joy and celebrates being with each other, all others. Play forges connections and bonds people and teams together; it opens us up and reinforces our sense of belonging.


Scientifically speaking, play shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul – and that is only the subtitle of Stuart Brown’s, book entitled Play! In it, Brown outlines techniques to ensure that brainstorm sessions are non-judgmental and actually result in creative ideas, i.e., engaging in a game as the ice breaker prior to the session. He goes on to say that organizations need to support and protect the “idea people” from the innovation-resistant “not-invented-here” autoimmune system of legacy thinking. Otherwise, new thinking is viewed as threatening and is buried.[1]

We must allow people to be serious about their jobs and also have fun without worrying whether they are being viewed subversively as not working hard enough or having too much time on their hands. Who hasn’t heard someone in an office setting say, “They’re having too much fun.”?

Play is often what is missing in our personal relationships as well. One couples therapist includes goofy competition between couples to generate laughter, joy, and fun while working together toward a common goal. It works. Couples that step out of their comfort zone and engage in play find their brains kick up dopamine levels, the neurotransmitter essential for pleasure. They often see each other with new eyes and remember the person they fell in love with or admired.

So, allow yourself to be human, to enjoy and celebrate time together, to be active, to find freedom in laughter, and to leverage play to build bonds of belonging and support whether at home or on the job.

If you are yearning for this but can only see the obstacles, I would be honored to speak with you about the shifts you can make in your work and personal life to make this possible. Get in touch with Noble Concepts.

For more on my approach to coaching, take a look at my website and other blog posts about Life Coaching and Organization Development.

[1] Brown, S., M.D. Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Penguin Group, London. 2009.[/fusion_text]

executive coach Montclair NJ

Building Resilience . . . Awesome!

Slap . . . slap . . . slap . . . went my arms as they hit the water during that early morning swim. I turned my head and saw the line of trees surrounding the lake and the blue and rose-tinted sky as the new sun led us into another day. I was sighting on the big white house at the end of the lake, and I glanced to my right to see my good friend, Fran, also slapping away at the water. Her pink cap and orange flotation device were visible behind her as she glided through the water, seemingly effortlessly; she was easily keeping up with me.

My mind wandered to an intense gratitude of being where I was, able to do this amazing thing with my body in such a special place. I mean, who gets to do this? Why me? This feeling of awe and wonder have been shown to give us hope and help us appreciate life. One sure-fire way of feeling awe and inspiration is to get out in nature, in fact, “. . . nature-inspired awe involves a “diminished self” and the “sensed presence of a higher power,” according to Dacher Keltner* and Jonathan Haidt . Awe is said to inspire creativity and contribute to personal wellbeing including lower stress and higher vitamin D levels.

We stopped at the beach by the white house, regrouped, high-fived, and set our sights for the far end of the lake a mile away near the playground. Slap . . . slap . . . slap . . . in unison we went. My mind wandered again from the surrounding peace and beauty to the resolute determination and resilience of the teammate beside me. Fran started swimming seriously just a couple years earlier in order to compete in the now popular triathlon scene. She could barely make 20 lengths of a pool, let alone the two-plus miles she was now training for; she was preparing for a 140.6-mile full-length triathlon race. I thought about what it took for her to reach this space and time and the amazing, concentrated effort she exhibited over the past years. She was brave, steadfast, and focused, especially when the going got tough . . . in short, she was resilient.

It’s easy to spot Fran when she completes the swim portion of a race; she’s the one pumping both arms in the air, a signature move she adopted more from relief at the feel of terra firma beneath her feet than accomplishing a spectacular race time. She was clearly my peer in the swim now, and I had been swimming far longer.

When we finished the two-mile trek, I felt strong, in touch with the earth, and fortified for a creative, productive day. Somehow that feeling of awe inspires our inner resilience, the way forward to overcome our fears and barriers.

I often talk on these topics of gratitude, awe, and resilience when life coaching in New Jersey. These are life skills that serve us well as we journey toward a way of being that includes thriving and healthy work, overcoming struggles and building resilience. Like Fran, one of my top strengths is perseverance, and I strive to meet my potential every day. Do I feel accomplished every single day? Not by a long shot. However, when I stop to appreciate the life I have and re-focus my perseverance and attention, I find the resources to keep going on my journey – however challenging. It is my hope that I can share this empowering practice with the people in my life and those who touch mine.

For more on my approach to coaching, take a look at my website and other blog posts about Life Coaching and Organization Development.

*https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/22/the-psychology-of-awe_n_5799850.html – Dacher Keltner is a researcher at Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory and Co-Director of the Greater Good Science Center; Jonathan Haidt is renown author and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business.