For you, as the leader, ability is the variable that you can influence the most, and the easiest. You can actively help others gain skills by providing mentoring, training, and education.
As leaders, we spend significant time and resources to motivate our teams. Most of this effort is focused on extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the proverbial carrot and stick. Behavior is driven by the promise of a reward, or the fear of retribution. It is effective because it taps into our biological survival system.
Our survival systems relentlessly seek well-being and safety. When that survival system sees the carrot, it craves that reward and promotes thoughts and emotions that drive us to reach for that carrot. In contrast, when the survival system sees (or feels) the stick, it views the pain as a threat to well-being and safety and will go to great lengths to avoid that stick. Extrinsic motivation works—but it has limitations.
Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, originates within us. It is internal and is not motivated by an external (carrot and stick) factor. One of the best research evaluations of intrinsic motivation was established in the Self Determination Theory. Edward Deci of Rochester University and Richard Ryan of Australian Catholic University originated this theory during the 1970s.
The theory argues that the most voluntary and high-quality motivation were dictated by conditions that support our people's Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness. As leaders, we may not be able to control certain things, but we can influence conditions. We have the ability to provide the right conditions that will promote this high-quality, voluntary motivation. In other words, we can provide conditions that promote intrinsic motivation. In doing this, we can help to create the outcome we are looking for in those we lead.
Because of this research, we as leaders have been given an equation, a formula, a recipe if you will, to create high-quality, voluntary motivation—the type of motivation that drives your people to perform at their highest level.
The ingredients in that recipe are Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness. In the Leader of Leaders Model, we argue that all three are essential, but Competency carries particular importance.
Competency is that sweet spot where ability, experience, and confidence come together. To put it more simply:
As leaders, we tend to focus primarily on ability when evaluating a learner. Ability, by itself, is simply to possess the skills and abilities to do something. However, skills alone do not produce a desired or successful outcome. Instead, desired outcomes require a learner to have the wisdom to apply skills effectively and efficiently. That wisdom comes through experience and confidence. This is why it is rare for a freshman or rookie athlete to make a gigantic impact on the field or on the court. Because although they possess great ability, they lack game experience and confidence to perform at this new level. Competency requires all three components.
COMPETENCY FROM THE LEARNERS PERSPECTIVE
Of the three competence pieces, confidence is the most important from the perspective of the learner. Generally speaking, we as humans tend to dismiss the validity and breadth of our own experience. As our best and often worst critics, we also undervalue our skills. Because of this fatal human flaw, it takes a lot of effort for a learner to build their confidence.
It’s important to remember that our natural tendencies to be biased toward a negative view of ourselves is not our fault. It is all based in our biology. When our survival system perceives a threat to safety or well-being, such as a challenging work assignment, it sends warning signals, usually in the form of fear or anxiety. It perceives the work assignment as a threat—meaning if we do not complete it successfully, our job will be in jeopardy.
If we are unable to manage those thoughts and feelings with confident self-assurance, we do not embrace the work assignment and underperform—despite our ability and experience. We have no control over the thoughts and feelings that come from this survival system. However, we can manage those thoughts and feelings as they enter our consciousness.
Confidence enables us to manage these thoughts and feelings as they surface. Learners who have this confidence will have greater success in their lives and in their work. With confidence, they are able to more effectively and efficiently use their ability and experience to propel themselves forward, rather than succumb to their own self-doubt.
COMPETENCY FROM THE LEADERS PERSPECTIVE
For you, as the leader, ability is the variable that you can influence the most, and the easiest. You can actively help others gain skills by providing mentoring, training, and education. It's not that you have zero influence on experience or confidence, but you have significantly more influence over ability.
Leaders value competency for good reasons. In a ten year study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the number one contributor to employee satisfaction was the capacity to use skills and abilities. In other words, an employee’s ability to be competent at what they do is what made them happy in their work. Not only does competence produce tremendous motivation, it also creates high satisfaction. It is a double win for both the leader and the learner.