What Drives Us?

The three Greek words poimen, presbuteros and episkopos, are the source of what we understand of leadership. These words describe the inner drives or motivation that people have. The poimen drive puts the Task First. The presbuteros drive puts People First. The episkopos drive puts the Mission First. The drives are represented as drawers that a leader can open to access leadership skills, abilities, styles and methods.

There are many theories about why human beings do what they do. Social scientists have been trying to explain human behavior since the beginning of the study of social science. It appears that we, as humans, act the way we do because of a drive that is deep inside of us. We each have an internal, intrinsic, unseen drive that results in behaviors that are extrinsic and observable.

The concept of intrinsic motivation emerged from the work of Harlow (1953) and White (1959) in opposition to the behavioral theories that were dominant at the time. Intrinsically motivated behaviors were defined as those that are not energized by physiological drives or their derivatives and for which the reward is the spontaneous satisfaction associated with the activity itself rather than with operationally separable consequences. Intrinsic motivation is the motivational instantiation of the proactive, growth-oriented nature of human beings. Indeed, it is intrinsically motivated activity that is the basis for people’s learning and development. White suggested that a need for competence underlies intrinsic motivation—that people engage in many activities in order to experience a sense of effectiveness and joy. Later, deCharms (1968) proposed that people have a primary motivational propensity to engage in activities that allow them to feel a sense of personal causation and that this is the basis of intrinsic motivation. Thus, White and deCharms together were proposing that the needs for competence and autonomy are the energizing basis for intrinsically motivated behavior.[1]

As individuals, what motivates or drives us, as Daniel Pink puts it in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us[2], is intrinsic. That drive or motivation comes from within each person. Pink says, “That first drive (Motivation 1.0) didn’t fully account for who we are. We also had a second drive—to seek rewards and avoid punishment more broadly.[3]

Pink goes on to say, “To help your employees find autonomy, the best strategy for an employer would be to figure out what’s important to each individual employee.[4]” These are the three drives that Don referred to as drawers of a toolbox. They represent three areas that are important to most employees.

A great deal of the research into motivation and drive is summarized in these seven statements:

  1. Leaders need to understand that normal, healthy adults have potential energy stored that we call drive.
  2. Adults have access to this stored energy, and it manifests itself as these three drives.
  3. Adults vary widely in how much of each drive they will have. Some will have more or less poimen drive than another person might have, and so on.
  4. Whether one of the drives manifests itself into thoughts and behaviors or not depends on the specific situation in which the person finds him- or herself.
  5. The specific circumstances of a situation can trigger a different drive. Each drive will manifest itself in response to a different set of circumstances.
  6. Since the three drives are directed toward different kinds of goals, i.e. Task, People or Mission, the behavior that results from arousal of a drive is quite distinct for each one. In other words, each drive leads to a distinct pattern of behavior.
  7. When the circumstances of a situation change, a different drive could be aroused, resulting in different patterns of behavior.

These intrinsic drives are the needs, or wants, that are related to our goals. What drives us determine our thoughts. Our thoughts impact our behaviors. Our behavior or our actions lead us to accomplish our goals.

DRIVE > THOUGHT > BEHAVIOR > GOAL ACCOMPLISHMENT

Another way to define our terms and understand how each interacts with the other is to examine the equation that Mitch offered as a manager’s approach to understanding drive. A person’s behavior is the product of their intrinsic drive and the circumstances of the situation.

B = D x S

(BEHAVIOR = DRIVE x SITUATION)

Since D, or drive, is a constant, you can solve for B, or behavior, by observing how S, or the situation, has changed. Situations impact thoughts and concerns that will cause a person’s behavior to change. For example, if a person goes to a party where there are many interesting and friendly people, he or she is likely to respond with presbuteros behaviors—people first. If a person works in a job or for a leader and receives no responsibility, opportunity to perform better or feedback on performance, this individual is unlikely to demonstrate poimen behaviors.

[1] Edward L. Deci and Maarten Vansteenkiste, Self-Determination Theory and Basic Need, (University of Rochester, U.S.A. and University of Leuven, Belgium, 2004). p. 4

[2] Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us, (New York: Penguin Books, 2011).

[3] Ibid. p. 16.

[4] Ibid. p. 106.

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