Paul B. Thornton

During my career, I have been asked that question at least 50 times. My consistent answer has been to simply ask the employee this question—What motivates you?

A great deal of research has been conducted on motivation. Some of the major findings include:

  • People are most motivated by their strongest needs
  • Each person has a unique set of needs
  • Needs and motives change over time

Answers to the—What motives you—question have included the following comments:

  • Acceptance
  • Accomplishing goals
  • Being creative
  • Being part of a team
  • Having fun
  • Goals and purpose
  • Growth and development
  • Interesting work
  • Job security
  • Learning new skills
  • Money, bonuses
  • Power
  • Recognition
  • Relationships
  • Status, feeling important
  • Time off

The best managers and leaders use this information to design tasks, provide opportunities, and give rewards that motivate each employee. They periodically ask similar question, such as what energizes you to perform at your best—to discover what factors may have increased in importance.

Another good question to ask—What de-motivates you? Your employees will tell you rather quickly what turns them off. So, you know what to avoid.

As Will Rodgers said, “When you go fishing, you bait the hook not with what you like, but with what the fish likes.”


Paul B. Thornton is an author and speaker. His latest e-books include:

  • Leadership-Perfecting Your Approach and Style-($1.99) Amazon Kindle. 
  • Leadership Case Studies-($4.99) Amazon Kindle.

Paul has produced 28 short YouTube videos on various management and leadership topics. In addition, he frequently posts his views and opinions about leadership on LinkedIn.  

He can be contacted at [email protected]