Watching the Olympics during August is always thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating. The hard work, the triumph and even the painful defeat can portray examples of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators in play, each athlete with their own unique story.
Mainly, the coverage tells the athletes' stories of triumph and exhilaration. And yet, behind the scenes are coaches who have spent countless hours preparing their athletes for the games and the environment in which the events occur.
Michael Phelps didn't win his first race in London. But, luckily, that didn't stop him. He retired with 22 Olympic medals, setting an Olympic record for most medals won in a career.
Camelita Jeter and Allyson Felix worked hard to overcome the perceived curse on the USA track team and their losing streak since 1996. They won the gold in the relay.
Aly Rausmar and Jordyn Wieber did not win individual goals but worked with their team to take home the USA gold for gymnastics.
What motivated these athletes in individual and team events? What motivated them in times of triumph and defeat? Intrinsic and extrinsic motivators were involved throughout the challenge of going for the gold.
Intrinsic motivation comes from within and is often derived from just participating or doing a task. The task is the reward. Extrinsic motivation comes from an external, outside source. It is the reward at the end. Coaches need to be aware of both types of motivators and how they can powerfully result in either positive or negative outcomes.
Jordyn Wieber, for example, lost her place for competing in the finals for individual performance in gymnastics. My assumption is that she did not lose her enjoyment of gymnastics (the intrinsic motivator), but with this loss she could have lost her extrinsic motivation. However, she did not. When the media questioned whether she would perform as part of the team competition, she said yes, and admirably helped lead her team to a gold medal.
As a supervisor, manager or leader in an organization, you serve in the role as coach and need to be aware of your employees' motivators. When the motivators are being satisfied, gold can be achieved. Engage your employees in a dialogue about their intrinsic motivations and work to understand the environment that you can create to achieve their best possible performance.
Go for the gold!
For an interesting perspective on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivators, listen to Dan Pink on the science of motivation.
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