Understanding your Motivations


Motivation is powerful if you know how to uncap it. This couldn’t have been truer of Martin Luther King Jr., when he uttered the famous words: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

His deepest motivation strung a cord not merely within one country, but across its borders which continues to serve as an example of how impactful words and actions of pure motivation can be.

Categories of motivation

Awareness of one’s intrinsic motivational driver is crucial in starting and developing one’s career. Once on a career path, initial motivational drivers are likely to be forgotten, leaving behind a feeling of purposelessness. When you have no purpose, the drive to do anything becomes difficult and the daily grind doesn’t loses its meaning. But when you understand your motivation for doing something, the every grind seems a little better. Understanding your motivation is crucial to career success and we can’t stress that enough.

According to Professor Carter Cast (Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management), motivation can be broken down into five different types:

  • To value achievement is to value improvement and the accomplishment of set goals;

  • To value affiliation is to value collaboration and team achievements;

  • To value power is to value status, external validation and authority over others;

  • To value autonomy is to value independence from external controlling entities;

  • To value purpose is to value contributing to a larger goal.

At least one or two of these motivational types tend to be dominant in each person. Anyone is a position of leadership who is highly motivated by achievement and less so by power and affiliation, has been proven to be the most successful. This is because a person who is led by the motivation to achieve is likely to be goal-oriented, and therefore willing to go beyond the scope of conventional desire that may be motivated by tangible assets like money or financial power.

In order to be at one’s most effective, it is best to have congruent implicit and explicit motives. According to leading psychologist Heinz Heckhausen, one’s implicit motives, unconscious preferences and habits are often at odds with one’s explicit motives, conscious preferences and habits. This often has a negative impact on one’s efficiency, subjective well-being and mental health. Therefore, a careful reflection on one’s implicit, as well as explicit motives is essential for being effective and mentally stable.

In addition to considering one’s implicit and explicit motives, it is necessary to differentiate between intrinsic and extrinsic motivational drivers. Intrinsic motivation is defined as motivation coming from within. These include things like values, experiences and convictions. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is defined as being externally rooted such as receiving rewards and recognition.[4] While extrinsic motivation may be effective in furthering your career to a certain extent, intrinsic motivation is more sustainable over time. That is one of the biggest reasons why Grassroot Diplomat advises on building a foundation that with intrinsic roots. When you have strong intrinsic motivations for doing something, it will become more difficult for other people and external influences to hinder your judgment and exploit you for their personal gains. Discovering your intrinsic motivation is most valuable in ensuring that your career grows with you – a problem that many diplomats face when in the middle of their career.

Working examples of motivation drivers

Naturally, coming up with your motivational drivers may be difficult at first. For example, António Guterres – the United Nations Secretary-General, has been noted to say that witnessing how people suffer in refugee camps and war zones motivates him in his work. He has made it his life’s work to fight for human rights, peace, sustainable development and empowering women and girls. Using Cast’s categories, the desire for achievement has shaped Guterres’ motivation and this desire for achievement has been influenced by personal experiences and values.

When founding international peace-building organisation ‘Search for Common Ground’, John Marks wanted to transform the status quo of how conflict is approached “from a win-lose perspective”, putting explicit focus that “we all ‘win’ when the focus is on what we want to achieve – not what divides us.” When placing Marks into the Cast’s category, the Search for Common Ground founder was also motivated by the desire for achievement by wanting to affect fundamental change. Nowadays, Search for Common Ground acts out of a belief that its work affects positive change which they have experienced in Burundi, Sierra Leone and Macedonia, among others. This case also serves as an example for Cast’s achievement motivation. Here, conviction and positive experiences are serving as motivational drivers.

In a final example, environmental activist Greta Thunberg is seen to act out of fear about our impending future if necessary actions are not taken to tackling climate change. In her case, fear, conviction and a desire for change are Thunberg’s motivational drivers.

So what are your motivational drivers?

Questions to determine your motivational drivers

Answering the questions below will help you determine intrinsic motivational drivers that are personally important to you. Motivation can be drawn from both negative and positive experiences. A negative experience can trigger a desire for change, while a positive experience can reinforce convictions and serve as a role model for similar actions.

  1. What do I want to achieve by working in the field of international relations?

  2. Is there a specific event in my life that has shaped my desire to become involved in international relations?

  3. Is there a specific issue that I want to tackle?

  4. Is there a specific cause that I want to support?

  5. What kind of change do I want to affect?

  6. Why do I want to represent this country or organisation?

Being aware of your motivations will help you channel your effort, increase efficiency and purpose. Exploring your motivational driver is an essential step in making meaningful career decisions and being your best self out in the field. By focusing on intrinsic motivations, you will gain a longer view at your career. However, exploring both implicit and explicit motives and aligning them to your overall career will significantly improve efficiency and mental well-being.

If you have problems figuring out what your motivations are, get in touch with us and we can coach you through it.