Motivated people walk through walls

Aug 20, 2023

There are many factors that can create highly motivated people – some within your control as an employer and some not.

When you are my age, you could sit back and complain about how old you are. Your feet hurt in the morning. You can’t see as well as you used to. You have hair growing out of your ears at the same rate that it’s falling off your head. But the truth is, there are some real benefits to aging!

You have hopefully learned something over all of those years, and are still learning today. You gain perspective. And that’s invaluable! Something I have learned is that truly motivated people can walk through walls. No matter what the challenge is that is thrown in front of them, they will always figure out something they can do to deal with it.

Why are some people clearly so highly motivated and others are not? That’s a good question, and one I am constantly seeking out the answer to. There are a bunch of factors, some within your control as an employer, and some not.

Those things impacting motivation that you are NOT in control of:

  1. Genetics. There has to be a genetic element to motivation. Some people just seem like they are born with the desire to make their mark and accomplish big things. Sometimes, everyone in their family is like that, too. Nature, or nurture? It’s the age-old question.
  2. Upbringing. Parents who encourage their children to work at things and try hard, families where the expectation is for one to accomplish something, or parents who give good life advice are bound to create motivated children. Or, it could be someone who grows up in a poor family or unstable financial situation, and is driven by the insecurity that created and never wants to go through it again. These things undoubtedly contribute to one’s motivation.
  3. Life partner. Does the person’s life partner encourage them to work hard? Do they create an expectation of accomplishment? Do they support the hard work it takes to do something worthwhile – or not? Little is more demotivating than working in a job or organization that your life partner resents or despises. It’s a bad situation.
  4. Health. No doubt health plays a part in motivation. If someone lacks the energy they need because of health issues or disabilities, or has to work inordinately hard just to do little things, that could be draining them of their motivation to do more.
  5. History. Did the person have positive work experiences early on that reinforced their motivation – or not? Do they believe hard work will be rewarded or do they think it’s all about luck and favoritism? Prior work experience no doubt impacts individual motivation levels. You as an employer cannot change that.

Things impacting motivation that you ARE in control of:

  1. Selection. Are you hiring people who are already motivated? Some people feel that this is essential, and that you cannot motivate unmotivated people. I am one of them. Look for a history of motivation and accomplishments.
  2. Roles. Are you giving people good roles where they feel their efforts make a difference – roles where they have some individual discretion and resources to get something done? This is super critical, because bad roles can demotivate people.
  3. Freedom. A lack of freedom is going to hamper self-esteem, and poor self-esteem is probably going to lead to demotivation. Everyone wants a certain amount of freedom to come and go and to do their job the way they want to, as long as they get the results that are expected from them. This freedom is a real need for motivated people.
  4. Recognition and rewards. Some people need more of this than others. But one thing is for sure: If a motivated person doesn’t get the recognition and rewards they expect, they will find those things somewhere else. So once again, I don’t believe that these things will make unmotivated people motivated, but I do believe a lack of them can turn good people off.
  5. Mentoring time. Who you spend your time with as a leader – and the quality of your input to them – can be a huge motivator. Just showing you care enough to do that and believe that someone is worth your attention may be all it takes to keep that motivational spark in them alive.

We all need more of these people who believe they can accomplish anything. Your job as a manager is to find those people and to nurture them the best that you can. The rewards of doing so can be immense! If you want more motivated people, it’s time to ask yourself how good of a job you are doing with the five factors above that are within your control to impact. 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.