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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


Two of the partners in the firm sipped their cocktails and chewed the fat (wow, there’s a mental image). “What the heck is happening with Sue?” “Sue who?” “You know, Sue Jones who’s been bucking to be a partner for the last longest.” “What do you mean, what’s happening with her?” “Well, she’s just not cutting it with the partners. I mean, she covers the basics okay, but there’s no real spark. She’s conscientious and she works long hours, but her overall contribution to the firm isn’t all that great in terms of new ideas or ndependent thought. She seems to be shaping up as some sort of ‘drivenplodder,’ if you know what I mean.” “Yeah, that doesn’t bode well for her prospects of becoming a partner. It takes more than just being a hard worker to pull your weight up here in this rarefied air, doesn’t it? Ha, ha, ha…”

My perspective is that there are three basic levels of motivation that people possess:

  • “Lazy people”: people who won’t do what you want them to.

  • “Work ethic people”: people who work hard at something because they believe it is a moral good that they “should” do it.

  • “Fun-loving people”: people who work hard at something because they are passionate about it and enjoy it.

“Lazy people” probably get a bad rap overall. They may just have an excellent reason for not doing what you want them to do. For example, if you preach teamwork but your compensation system is set up to reward individual effort (“eat what you kill”), then you can hardly blame someone for not being team oriented. It’s not really in their best interest because it takes time away from maximizing their personal success. They aren’t being “lazy,” they’re actually being very wise within the rules and culture that you as the leader have created. This being said, if people really won’t do what you ask them (maybe they really are just trying to get a free ride) then they can’t do your organization much good.

“Work ethic people” basically are driven to avoid being criticized for not working. They work to avoid punishment rather more than they work to seek rewards. This is a basic lack of self esteem issue, but still people of this ilk can get a lot of work done. They are willing to sacrifice many other successes and enjoyments in life (e.g., like health, family, and friends) to get as much work done as they can before they die. On their deathbed, they would be saying “I only wish I could have had one more fourteen hour day at the office!” Since they are responding to a negative rather than a positive internal self reinforcement and motivation, the quantity and quality of their work can be limited.

“Fun-loving people” are biting at the bit to do what they love (I’m assuming here that you are putting them in a role that they feel this way about). Their passion for what they do is self-energizing and self-renewing; they are a boundless and contagious source of commitment and results orientation for your organization. Fun-loving “A” players love to make a positive difference and they love to form strong team relationships with others. Over a career they easily will out produce “work ethic people” in their contribution to the success of your organization.

One of the best examples of the motivational power of the passionate pursuit of what you love is love itself. Think about it; the power of true love (and even not so true love) is so powerful in its capacity to produce happiness and fun that it is literally unstoppable. It works so well as a motivator that we are in danger of populating ourselves right off the planet. While we may quibble about the current results, the motivational power itself is undeniable. How would you like to have that kind of motivation harnessed toward achieving your organization’s goals?


Technique #1: Learn to differentiate among genuinely lazy people, work ethic people, and fun-loving people.

Technique #2: Don’t settle for genuinely lazy people or work ethic people as new members of your team; hold out for people who are fun-loving and passionate about the role you are offering.

Technique #3: Create an organizational culture that reinforces fun-loving people and retains them over time (e.g., empowerment, teamwork, innovation, compensation) so you can take full advantage of their prodigious contributions.

Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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