Cafe Classic: Who Owns Your Motivation?

Editor’s Note: With our collective sense of entitlement apparently reaching ever new highs, it’s time to roll out this Jim Brennan Classic post.  Whose job is it to keep you motivated, anyway?

Does your motivation come from someone else?  Do you depend on others to supply your motivations?

Yesterday’s news du jour was the alarming story about the high school teacher whose personal blog containing a few complaints about today’s students led to her suspension.  The following statement by an ex-student of hers caught my attention.  The student agreed that the teacher’s overall comments were generally true but added, “It’s a teacher’s job, however, to give students the motivation to learn.”

Huh?  Is motivation something you inject into people like gasoline?  Is motivation an externally-imposed energy source that an outside party must provide to you?  Or is that line of thought just another excuse of entitlement-minded people who seem to accept responsibility for nothing but their rights and privileges?  

Seems like almost every day brings another story of an unfortunate millionaire plagued with issues not of his or her own making.  It is never their fault.  The pitiable tales always seem to be expressed in admiring terms suitably reflective of the party’s victimization status.  “They fight addiction.” (They’re a cokehead.) “They struggle with family issues.” (They cheat shamelessly on their spouse.)  “They fight a disorder.” (They shoplift for amusement.)  They battle anger management issues.” (They beat their children.)   Every sympathetic statement is in the passive mode, showing that things are done to them.  “They were devastated by financial disasters.”  (They blew $25,000,000.)  They are neither actors in charge of their personal destinies nor agents who initiate their own choices but simply innocent pawns manipulated by whatever forces are imposed on them.  Something else forced them to a course of action.  Someone else is responsible for their behavior.  Does anyone else hear the faint echo of Flip Wilson’s immortal phrase, “The Devil made me do it!”? 

Oh, please.  Give me a break.

Granted, it has been many a decade since I took a psychology course, but that unfortunately prevailing attitude seems to fly in the face of every precept I ever learned or taught about the nature of human behavior.  This is quite disturbing on a number of levels.  People actually believe this.  Prominent personalities present the entitlement philosophy as an established fact.  It is so universally accepted as to be unworthy of comment.  Folks enter our work force after an entire lifetime of immersion in the pernicious concept that one need accept no responsibility for your own actions.  You don’t make choices; you only respond to stimuli. If your performance is defective, it is someone else’s problem because “they” are responsible for your behavior, not you.  But who is they?  It is us, right here.

Motivation is a lot to ask from a mere compensation program founded on principles that assume facts no longer found in real life.  With employees who think like this, those in our trade are assured of lifetime job security, because challenges will abound. 

My life needs seasoning.  Will someone pass the motivation, please?

E. James (Jim) Brennan is an independent compensation advisor with extensive total rewards experience in most industries.  After corporate HR posts and consulting CEO roles, he was Senior Associate of pay surveyor ERI before returning to consulting in 2015. A prolific writer (author of the Performance Management Workbook), speaker and frequent expert witness in reasonable executive compensation court cases, Jim also serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review.

Image: Creative Commons Photo “Motivation” by Nono Fara

This post originally appeared on Compensation Cafe
Author: Ann Bares