Examine Your Real Motives


Motives are the underlying reasons for the actions you take and the words you say. No one can tell you what your motives are. They may try, but you are the only one who can know your real reasons for doing what you do.

Are your motives healthy—based on wanting the best for yourself and others? Or do you ever have an unhealthy motive—one that is driven by fear, anger, or an unfulfilled need for acceptance, power, or safety? Unless you make a regular practice of examining your motives and questioning your choices, you might inadvertently slip into auto-pilot and create a wedge in the relationships that are most important to you at work and home.

I mentioned slipping in to autopilot. Imagine if we treated motives like flying a plane. The pilot has moments of hands-on, intentional action, but most of the flying occurs with the autopilot on—upwards of 90 percent. In flying, autopilot allows a pilot to focus on other things like navigation, communication, and systems operation. But when it comes to people, there’s great risk in allowing our motives to simply run, unchecked, in the background. 

Ask these questions to assess whether or not your motives are healthy or have become unhealthy:

  • When you make comments in meetings—is your real motive to add value to the discussion (healthy), or do you mostly want the boss and others to think you’re smart (unhealthy)?
  • When you take on everything yourself rather than delegate to willing, able people—is your real motive to save time (healthy), or do you fear losing control (unhealthy)?
  • When you give unsolicited advice to your coworker, is your real motive truly to help (healthy), or do you need to feel like you are better than they are (unhealthy)?
  • When you can’t say “no” and find yourself doing others’ work—is your real motive to sincerely help (healthy), or are you afraid that doing for others is the only real value you add (unhealthy)? 

Many of us believe there’s a finite amount of everything: reward, credit, recognition, benefits, even love. So, the more you get, the less there is for me. This belief creates a scarcity mindset, an environment of fear, which can foster unhealthy motives. With a fearful world view, it’s difficult to shift the focus off of yourself and take the others’ needs into consideration. Unless you can choose an abundance mindset—where you believe there’s enough for everyone, you won’t be able to care as much about others’ wins as you care about your own. You’ll struggle to live by healthy motives and may hamper otherwise fulfilling, productive relationships.

To practice examining your motives, identify an outcome you want in a particular situation or relationship, then honestly ask yourself “why?” as many times as needed to uncover your real motives for wanting that outcome. Once you’ve listed the reasons, ask yourself:

  • Which motives are self-serving (unhealthy)?
  • Which motives serve the whole--myself and others (healthy)?
  • As others observe me acting on my real motives (healthy or unhealthy), what kinds of things do they see or hear me doing, and how do they feel?

Choose which motives you will act on going forward.

Continue your journey of professional development and improvement by registering to attend a complimentary Get Better webcast - hosted by FranklinCovey's Chief People Officer and bestselling author, Todd Davis.

About the Author

Todd Davis

Todd Davis has over 30 years of experience in human resources, training and training development, executive recruiting, sales, and marketing. Todd is currently a member of the FranklinCovey Executive Team where he serves as the Chief People Officer. He is also a bestselling author with two books to his credit, Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work and Talent Unleashed: 3 Leadership Conversations for Tapping the Unlimited Potential of People.

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