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Why motivation is actually irrelevant for CEOs

Motivation is a transitory feeling; commitment is your non-negotiable mindset that tells your people everything they need to know.


There is a strong argument for suggesting that 2020 will be a challenging one for anyone in a leadership role. The year that was 2019 was scattered with Royal Commissions, political let-downs and leadership outrage.

It’s never been clearer that our expectations of CEOs are higher than ever. We are judging and critiquing all that they do, especially when it comes to their behaviour and role modelling. We do not expect our leaders to be perfect, but we do want to see integrity and authenticity in all that they do.

There has been a significant shift in recent months around how we set CEOs up to be successful among the constant noise and demands of their time.

Motivation is a short-term feeling

Working as a success coach with CEOs and leaders around the globe has shown me that motivation has become irrelevant. In previous years, we all had conversations about how to both get and stay motivated. Many of us grew up associating the word ‘motivation’ with all things positive.

Motivational speakers are amazing, right? Motivation of others is something that successful leaders do well, isn’t it? Being self-motivated is a strength we look for and measure in leaders. What has been really obvious to me is that motivation fades. It’s great, but it’s fleeting and inconsistent and unreliable. Motivation happens on the inside and it’s often transitory, leaving very little action when it has moved on.

Commitment is what’s critical

Commitment is what you do even when you don’t want to, because you know it’s critical to your success, wellbeing and the organisation you are responsible for. There is no negotiation or compromise. Your commitments are what navigate you through when it’s tough and when you’re celebrating.

People are watching what you’re committed to, because this tells them everything about your priorities, decision-making, vision and how you ‘do’ relationships with your people. When the motivation has passed, it’s your commitments that keep you focused.

Four ways to demonstrate commitment

  • What behaviours are you committed to? Identify your non-negotiables when it comes to behaviours and values that your team can expect from you.
  • How do you get a current view of what your commitments are? Bring in an expert if you haven’t done this before. Do a full audit of what is and is not working in terms of your brand, energy and vision for success.
  • How can you communicate your commitments to others? Write a 2020 commitment statement that clearly outlines what you stand for as a CEO.
  • What’s the most important thing to remember? Every phone call, email, meeting and media statement is an opportunity for you to use language, evoke feelings and demonstrate behaviours that reflect what matters most to you. Authenticity is essentially doing what you say you will do

Successful leaders know how to commit and deliver. They do not depend on motivation to make anything happen.

Lisa Stephenson is an Australian success coach who has worked with some of the biggest global names, CEOs, elite athletes and entrepreneurs.

Read next: Crucial strategies for self-motivation

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