Keeping Yourself Fired Up

Oct 27, 2003

Let’s face it, the motivation of any A/E or environmental firm’s leaders is, in many ways, more important than the motivation of the staff. Because if the leaders aren’t fired up, how can anyone else be? Some people get “motivated” confused with “happy,” however, when in fact, it may mean just the opposite. I just read a quote from the huffing and puffing 60-year-old Tom Peters in the most recent issue of Inc. Magazine, something to the effect that “pissed-off people are the only ones who change the world.” While Peters is a bit carried away with himself at times, there’s a certain amount of wisdom in that thought. Let’s just assume for a moment that motivated people are unhappy— at least unhappy with some aspect of their day or life— and that’s what motivates them to change things. But they are not unhappy to a point of being unable to do anything, either. So what makes you— or anyone else like you— motivated (in general)? It’s a lot of things, including: Feeling like you are pretty much doing what you want with your day and your life. If you aren’t doing that, you will be motivated to change. Feeling like you are being successful but haven’t “made it” yet. Too much success spoils many of us. We have to be feeling good but wanting more to be motivated to do more. Feeling like that success is recognized by others. Everyone wants recognition. Feeling like you are appreciated for what you are good at makes people want to do more of it. Feeling like you are using all your brain has to offer. Design firms are filled with smart people. Smart people want to self-actualize— i.e., be all they can be. To do less than that makes them feel like failures. Feeling like you are somewhat in control of your life. It’s motivating to feel like you are getting somewhere, closer to a life that you dreamed of for yourself. That has many different aspects to it. Feeling you are accomplishing something worthwhile. Design and environmental professionals usually feel some higher calling beyond just doing a job for a fee. If not, many more would be stockbrokers, I’d guess! Feeling like nothing is turning you off or demotivating you. The demotivators often revolve around bad relationships with others at work, the perception of bureaucratic policies and procedures, or artificial obstacles put up by the firm to getting work done. How can you keep motivated? It starts with having a healthy company. That takes: The right business plan. The plan has to have a vision for the future and some real strategies that everyday decisions can be based on. And the plan has to be leading to a conclusion that the individual opportunity for each of the top people is a good one. The right people in the right roles. The wrong people create division. They take up all of your time. They drain resources away from other things that are more gratifying to the people who have to deal with them. The right kind of commitment to growth. Every company needs a vision for growth. Not having that is a cop out. That being said, every company also has to do good work and be profitable. That is a condition for remaining in business. That’s why I say it takes the “right” commitment. That means an appropriate growth commitment for the economic period, the external environment, and the internal resources available. The right kinds of continued investment in the firm. Without investing in people, overhead infrastructure, communications, marketing, and more, no firm is going to be able to remain healthy over the long haul. This will inevitably result in the leaders being sucked into activities that they won’t find motivating. You can’t be and stay fired up without keeping yourself healthy. That takes: A self concept that is much broader than how successful you are in business. If you don’t have this, it will backfire on you. This is why workaholics often crash at some point. When the firm enters a period of poor performance, the toll will be high on those whose only defnition of success is tied to how the firm is performing. Staying involved working with clients. Clients are the ones the firm needs to please and the ones who pay the bills. Working with them personally helps leaders stay useful to their firms and keeps them healthy. Staying involved with the people in your firm. People need to interact with others. The personal relationships with others in the company help leaders stay connected with the importance of the institution and helps keep them mentally healthy. Staying involved with your profession. Feeling like you are giving something back is important to individual’s self image and health. Exercise so your brain doesn’t die. Everyone needs PE class. If your body isn’t healthy your mind won’t be. Once health fails, it’s hard for most to keep a positive attitude and have the energy level it takes to stay motivated in spite of obstacles. The right kinds of other interests. Doing things outside of work that are enjoyable is a huge motivator to many successful people, and keeps them pursuing that success. The right kinds of outside reading. Inspirational books as opposed to slasher novels are what I had in mind with this point. The right amount of staying up with current events. The news is often bad. Yet it is important to stay well-informed. Too much negative information and you’ll get negative. Not enough and you will be ignorant. Understanding motivation, having a healthy company, and keeping yourself healthy— both mentally and physically— is what it takes for leaders to stay fired up in 2003 and beyond. What are your thoughts? Originally published 10/27/2003

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