There was a post on the Harvard Business Review blog site about a recent leadership study – Why You Lead Determines How Well You Lead.
According to the study, people with an internal motivation to lead are more effective than those with external motivations. More surprising, a person who has a mix of internal and external motivations, does very poorly.
“As one might predict, we found that those with internal, intrinsic motives performed better than those with external, instrumental rationales for their service — a common finding in studies of motivation. We were surprised to find, however, that those with both internal and external rationales proved to be worse investments as leaders than those with fewer, but predominantly internal, motivations. Adding external motives didn’t make leaders perform better — additional motivations reduced the selection to top leadership by more than 20%. Thus, external motivations, even atop strong internal motivations, were leadership poison.
Many believe that the best way to influence behavior is to incentivize it, and such external incentives certainly work with lab rats. In our study, however, adding external incentives clearly did not improve leader performance.”
“If those we seek to develop as leaders adopt external justifications for leading well — such as an increase in shareholder value, better pay or perquisites, or increased profits — they are likely to be less successful as leaders in comparison to those who seek to lead for more internal, intrinsic reasons alone.”
If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you probably can see where my mind is going here. These results made me wonder if non-profit leaders might not make the most effective leaders since internal motivation for doing the job is all but given.
Now remember, effective leader doesn’t necessarily equate to successful. This is a “if you are so smart, why ain’t you rich” situation. Non-profit organizations are notoriously underfunded and lack the resources to achieve the success they aspire to. Not to mention many are pursuing work which others won’t because there is no profit to be made.
Likewise non-profit leaders may make really stupid choices because there was never any time to properly develop and cultivate them throughout their careers. (Not that this type of grooming has kept their for-profit colleagues from making stupendous mistakes either.)
Yes, I am flirting with suggesting that for-profit corporations pull something akin to the movie Trading Places consider looking for effective leaders in non-profit organizations (sans the whole bet thing).
Yes, this regrettably will take talent out of the field, but it would put them in a place with greater resources to provide their leadership skills with more impact. Without maximizing shareholder value as a central goal, the general business environment may shift for the better. Though that might be as big a fantasy as the movie.