“How do you motivate yourself?”
I get asked this question a lot, probably because I appear busy. I run a business school, a venture capital firm, multiple conferences, and a pro-basketball team—oh, and I have five kids! So when I get asked about how I stay motivated, my answer is always the same:
“I don’t need motivation.”
The truth is, if you’re worrying about how to motivate yourself, it’s already too late. By the time you’re asking that, you’re not talking about staying motivated. You’ve already lost motivation. When it comes to leadership motivation, in particular, that’s a real problem. So the question you should be asking is, “How do I get my motivation back?”
The balloon theory can help with that.
The Balloon Theory of Leadership Motivation
The feeling of being motivated is something that should happen naturally. It isn’t something artificial that you can manage from the outside.
The late Hirotaro Higuchi, the CEO who transformed Asahi into Japan’s top beer company in the late 80s, had an interesting take on how great leaders approach motivation. He called it “balloon theory.”
“Like gas-filled balloons, people’s natural impulse is to rise,” he explained to me once. “Most companies load people up with all sorts of weights that stop them from doing so. As a leader, my job is to get rid of all the junk that holds people down and let them rise.”
In other words, a leader should throw out anything or anyone that depresses natural motivation. To motivate employees, get rid of silly bureaucratic procedures, nasty coworkers, second-rate bosses, whatever. Don’t let your team members or other employees feel like you’re ignoring things that waste their time or bog them down.
Motivating by Empowering
At GLOBIS, I do my best to apply balloon theory for increased motivation through a couple of simple management principles:
- No one has to do anything they don’t believe in.
- No one has to do anything they don’t want.
There is no coercion, either intellectual or emotional. People only have to do things they buy into wholeheartedly (and whole headedly). It may sound crazy, but regardless of what leadership styles you might believe in, this is just plain common sense. If you force people to do things they’re reluctant to do, they’ll go about the job half-heartedly. The results will be bad, and organizational morale will suffer as a result.
At the end of the day, leadership motivation should be about how to motivate others. If your people hate what they’re doing, you’ll find it much harder to motivate yourself.
Worse still, forcing people to do things they’re reluctant to do actually gives them an incentive to fail. They want everything to go wrong because then they can come back with, “See? I told you it wasn’t going to work!”
A smart leader never tells people what to do. A smart leader gets people to do the work they want to do, the work which naturally motivates them. These are the right conditions for the “balloons” to rise and the organization to flourish.
2 Questions to Find a Direction to Motivate Yourself
We all want to find the things that motivate and energize us. Trouble is, that’s easier said than done. I’ve certainly had times in my career where I felt apathetic and lost. The toughest period was probably when I came back to Japan after my MBA in the States. Returning to my old job was, to put it mildly, anticlimactic. I knew I wanted a change, but I wasn’t sure what kind of change.
So I tried to identify the things that naturally motivated and energized me. And I did that by asking a couple of simple questions:
- What do I enjoy?
- What is my mission in life?
The answers to these questions can help you identify and achieve your goals. Here are the answers I came up with:
- I enjoy creating value from scratch, taking responsibility, being in control, and making people happy.
- My mission is to create an ecosystem to develop visionary leaders who create and innovate societies.
These answers let me to set up a business school in 1992 (which would later evolve into GLOBIS University) and a venture capital firm (GLOBIS Capital Partners) in 1996. I’ve certainly had my share of problems to grapple with over the years, but it’s never been a chore. Why? Because I believe in and enjoy what I am doing. I’ve tapped into a high level of intrinsic motivation.
So if you feel like you’re flailing around trying to motivate yourself (or others) with nothing to show for it, just stop. Stop trying to pump yourself up from the outside in. Instead, look inward, identify what you really want to do, and then float up, up and away like a balloon—or maybe like a bubble in a nice cool glass of Asahi beer!