How Can a Business Leader Self-Motivate?

A while back Addakula Balakrishna wrote to Jack and Suzy Welch via Business Week. Remarking that the Welches often talk about how a leader can motivate others, Balakrishna asked: “But how do leaders motivate themselves, especially in challenging times.”

First, fear of failure is a better motivating factor than a desire for success. You can come terms with differing degrees of success, but you cannot negotiate with failure.

The Welches recommend that a leader look in the mirror and say: “I’m not going to be the one who lets this place fail.”

It does not feel that this is a confidence-building measure, but it is. It propels you to do your best and to do everything in your power to garner success, or, at least, survival. It prevents you from slacking off or giving up. Better yet, you can try it at home.

Second, the Welches say, a leader can sustain personal pride and confidence by identifying with the corporate mission, the company’s high concept.

A leader knows where the company has been and what it has accomplished, and he must also know what it is about. Has it prospered by providing good service or quality products or exceptional value?

And, a company’s larger concept should involve its role in a nation‘s economic life.

Third, the Welches point out that in time of trouble and trauma a leader’s first impulse is to withdraw from close contact with his staff. He will naturally not want to get too close to people whom he might fire, or whom he might let down. Their succinct advice: “Don’t do it.”

They remark that a leader gains intellectual and moral sustenance by interacting with people, by listening to their concerns, and using the information to set better policy. You cannot manage a company if you are detached and fearful.

Fourth, they suggest that a leader should see his challenge “not as an intractable problem, but as an exciting puzzle to be solved.” A leader does not see himself directing a play or a movie, but as playing a game.

People who see the world as drama tend to act as though the outcome is inevitable. There is little the director or the audience can do to change the outcome of Macbeth.

If you see yourself playing a game that has gotten to the third inning, then you will know that you have the power to influence the outcome, both for you and your employees.

Finally, the Welches debunk the notion that the leader is alone at the top. As they put it: “The old saw ‘It’s lonely at the top’ is pablum. It’s only as lonely as you let it be.”

A leader should never got so absorbed in his job that he forgets that he has friends, neighbors, and family members who are supportive, who believe in him, whose support can motivate him.

The leader who makes good use of the human resources that are part of his life outside the office will be better prepared to set the right example for his staff.


I began my career as a psychotherapist. Having spent too much time trying to figure out why people get it wrong, I changed course and started helping them to get it right. As a business coach I show people how to lead and manage, how to negotiate and organize. And I especially work on developing good behavior and good character, in oneself and in others.

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