The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “How do you stay motivated?” is written by Sally Blount, dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
The research, both academic and applied, is consistent and can be summed up simply: Staying motivated at work is about five things. The first four are all about context and how you set yourself up for success: the right mission, the right job, the right boss, and the right team. The last one is all about you: the right attitude. These are the fundamentals—it’s that simple.
You need to pick an organization with a mission you believe in, or one with a salary or developmental opportunity that’s significant enough to motivate you all by itself.
Even when the mission is right, if you’re in the wrong job, it’s hard to stay focused. So look for roles that match your talents and capabilities—roles where you can thrive and contribute who you really are (not the image you wish others had of you, but your true self).
Whether produced by the Society of Human Resource Managers, Gallup, or McKinsey, the research consistently finds that if your boss doesn’t trust or respect you, you won’t be satisfied or stay engaged at work. So be sure your immediate supervisor is someone you respect and want to work for—and vice versa.
When you’re working hard, it matters who’s standing beside you. That’s another major determinant of motivation and engagement—how well you synch with your co-workers. So look for strong teammates—people you can learn from and who will challenge you to perform at your best. That doesn’t mean you have to hang out with your teammates on weekends. It’s about working with people whose integrity, work commitment, and performance match yours.
Once these four factors are in place, the task shifts to keeping your focus and staying motivated over time. This becomes even more important when you move into a top job, because if you’re successful, you likely won’t be switching roles very often.
It’s in your control. Whether you’re burned out, bored, or passionate about work is up to you. No one likes a martyr or a micro-manager. They also don’t like leaders who look/act stressed out, self-indulgent, or self-satisfied. So it’s up to you to make sure that you reset, renew, and/or refresh your focus and energy level when you sit in the top job.
As someone who has now been “deaning” over 12 years—longer than I was a full-time professor—I have learned from both my own experience and from talking with CEOs who have performed in their jobs for five-plus years. For these true distance performers, there are two important types of recharge.
The first I’ll call the micro-charge—making sure that every three months, you get three to four days where you are really away. When I do a micro-charge, I do very little email and no phone calls, if possible. Instead, I take long walks (in addition to other forms of exercise) and try to read a full book from cover to cover (no jumping around to absorb only the key facts). I relish my meals with family and friends and actually sit down to eat each one.
The second, the mission-charge, is about going the distance—the soul-searching work you need to do every two to three years to make sure that things aren’t getting rote, to make sure that you really understand your marketplace and are challenging your team to perform and deliver. This recharge requires at least a week, but two is better. I like to go to one place where I stay put—with great views, good food, and a lot of walking trails for thinking. The desert is perfect for me. The mission-charge is all about deep reflection—analyzing your performance and your organization’s, asking yourself the hard questions, and plumbing the depths of your own mind. You have to make sure that you really know what you’re thinking and feeling.
In my job, I’ve observed that the best CEOs are really disciplined about self-assessment and renewal. Together, these two types of recharge are critical to “long-distance” leadership—assuring that you’re committed to the true performance of your organization, your team, and yourself.