Daniel Goleman: Traits of a Motivated Leader

If there is one trait that virtually all effective leaders have, it is motivation – a variety of self-management whereby we mobilize our positive emotions to drive us toward our goals. Motivated leaders are driven to achieve beyond expectations – their own and everyone else’s. The key word here is achieve.

Plenty of people are motivated by external factors, such as a big salary or the status that comes from having an impressive title or being part of a prestigious company. By contrast, those with leadership potential are motivated by a deeply embedded desire to achieve for the sake of achievement.

If you are looking for leaders, how can you identify people who are motivated by the drive to achieve rather than by external rewards?

The first sign is a passion for the work itself. Such people seek out creative challenges, love to learn, and take great pride in a job well done. They also display an unflagging energy to do things better. People with such energy often seem restless with the status quo.

They are also eager to explore new approaches to their work. A cosmetics company manager, for example, was frustrated that he had to wait two weeks to get sales results from people in the field. He finally tracked down an automated phone system that would remind each of his salespeople at 5 pm every day to punch in their number to show how many calls and sales they had made. The system shortened the feedback time on sales results from weeks to hours.

That story illustrates two other common traits of people who are driven to achieve: they are forever raising the performance bar, and they like to keep score.

Take the performance bar first. During performance reviews, people with high levels of motivation might ask to be “stretched” or challenged by their superiors. Of course, an employee who combines self-awareness with internal motivation will recognize her limits, but she won’t settle for objectives that seem too easy to fulfill. And it follows naturally that people who are driven to do better also want a way of tracking progress – their own, their team’s, and their company’s.

Whereas people with low achievement motivation are often fuzzy about results, those with high achievement motivation often keep score by tracking such hard measures as profitability or market share. Interestingly, people with high motivation remain optimistic even when the score is against them. In such cases, self-regulation combines with achievement motivation to overcome the frustration and depression that come after a setback or failure.

What are some other traits of motivated leaders? Please share your insights in the comment field, or tweet them to @DanielGolemanEI.

Learn more about effective leadership traits in my new compilation What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters, and my video series Leadership: A Master Class.

Further reading:

Positive leaders manage their mind’s “flashlight”

How leaders can overcome obstacles for change

Can we identify emotionally intelligent job candidates?

A self-aware leader is not a self-obsessed leader

Use the pacesetting leadership style sparingly

Additional resources:

Leading with Emotional Intelligence – American Management Association

What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters

High Performance Leadership with George Kohlrieser

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence

Photo: Sergey Nivens / shutterstock