‘Sometimes, it is so hard to manage my team. Some are so competitive and want to be on the top in everything, so much so that I wish I could tie them down to their chair and make them understand that they need to be a team player. Some cannot care less; winning or succeeding [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

What it takes to succeed


‘Sometimes, it is so hard to manage my team. Some are so competitive and want to be on the top in everything, so much so that I wish I could tie them down to their chair and make them understand that they need to be a team player. Some cannot care less; winning or succeeding does not matter to them at all. They come to work, and they go home but I can’t say that they are not motivated either, but there is something missing in them. Managing a team with individuals of different levels of motivation is not at all easy’.

The senior manager seems frustrated as he goes through some of the performance reviews. ‘Are people different in the kind of success they seek?’

Achievement motivation (AM) can be seen as a personality characteristic that refers to the strength of an individual’s desire to excel at various tasks, so they can succeed or do better than others. People with high AM avoid performing very difficult tasks that are likely to result in failure; failure may not be the best motivator for them since the more wins they have, the more motivated they are.Furthermore, they also tend to stay away from tasks that are too easy; even though they would surely succeed in these tasks, these are not challenging enough for them. By contrast, the opposite is true for persons of low AM. They prefer tasks that are too easy where success is virtually certain, or tasks that are very difficult, because anyone performing it would be expected to fail, thereby being able to justify their failure. This saves much damage to their self esteem. Even though these differences between persons of high AM and low AM are interesting, the real value of it is to consider them in the context of managerial success.

Are managers with high AM successful managers? Managers of high AM are highly task oriented as they are strongly concerned about getting things done which encourages them to work harder. Given their desire to succeed coupled with hard work, one can speculate that they may attain greater success than others. This is true to a certain extent as they jump-start their careers and gain promotions early in their life. However, their reluctance to tackle difficult tasks may become a problem for their success as they get used to a comfort zone in which they operate and succeed comfortably. Furthermore, they may be focused on their own individual success that they may not delegate authority to others, thereby, being unpopular amongst their subordinates. Research shows that top executives and CEOs who are high on AM tend to keep organisational power in the hands of a selected few and eventually fail to empower their teams and improve the ‘bench strength’ of an organisation that is important for effective continuity. At the same time on a positive note, their desire to succeed may encourage them to seek more feedback from others about their performance, which will help them to address their limitations and reinforce their strengths, so that they can be more effective in their managerial roles.

Do people differ in the kind of success they seek? Yes. Some of us desire to perform well because it satisfies an interest in learning a new skill or meeting a new challenge (learning goal orientation), say starting on a new project that requires you to be trained on a new set of skills. Some of us may want to perform well to demonstrate our competence to others, i.e. wanting to appear as successful as defined by others or the society (performance goal orientation). Certain others may want to achieve in order to avoid being judged by others as incompetent or receiving negative feedback; this might especially be the case with people of low self esteem (avoidance goal orientation). Finally, there could be some of us who want to merely overcome a limitation, so that we can conquer our own weaknesses, such as pushing ourselves to do presentations because you know that we have a problem with public speaking.

Any company will benefit if it fosters on-the-job feedback and continuous learning. Companies can strategically promote learning cultures that allow individuals to tailor their learning experiences to their own interests (yet be aligned to the company’s goals) and adjust these when and if their life situation changes. In order to improve it further, companies can also create an environment in which people are also given the ownership of their learning, opportunity to take calculated risks, and the freedom to make cautious decisions. Companies can improve clear and transparent feedback systems and facilitate a culture of openness.

With the increasing technology that allows people to work alone and with more young people joining the workforce looking for career options that fulfil their personal career goals, there is a sense of increasing individualism in the workplace. Persons joining an organisation should be mindful of what the company can offer them and how this can be aligned to their personal goals, so that it becomes a win-win situation. At the same time, organisations have to be mindful of who they want to employ, especially when the job requires working with others.

A self-motivated person high on AM might just not be enough; we might want to find out why people want to achieve and in what areas they want to achieve, whether they want to achieve alone or as a team. Motivation alone cannot solve performance problems; the key may lie in how this motivation is extended towards others to communicate, to connect, to collectively achieve and celebrate. Needless to say, social competence, social intelligence, flexibility and adaptability are all important factors that define success.

After all, it’s not only about where we get the energy from; it is also about where we channel this energy to.

(Rozaine is a Business
Psychologist, consultant and a university lecturer based in
Colombo. She can be contacted via email on rozaine@forte.lk).

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