James E. Meyers JR
Central Texas College
Motivation Theories and Productivity
Motivation is defined, in simple terms, as what drives us to succeed. I consider the term motivation in and of itself as theory. I believe there are as many motivation theories as there are people who have an opinion about it. In this essay, I will focus primarily upon my personal experience concerning motivation, my theories, as well as what I know does and does not work.
The term “motivation” is overused in the Army. So much so that relatively young Soldiers do not understand its true meaning or how it applies to their everyday lives within the organization. I, personally, have known Soldiers who cannot even define the word and only thought it was yet another “Army word that sounds catchy”. I first began learning about motivation theories in my leadership training at the Marine Corps Corporal’s Course. There, we were taught many of the same principals one might learn at the IBM company manager’s course. This is because the Marine Corps did its homework. It realized that there was a veritable gold mine of leaders training and techniques to be found in the business world. Besides actual combat experience, the Marine Corps realized it could not develop a truly autonomous, much less modernized, course for leadership and motivation. In response, it looked to the cut-throat world of business, where failure and lack of inspiring leaders (managers) meant certain, absolute death. Few companies survive in this environment, much less flourish. The International Business Machine company was not only successful, it dominated. The Marine Corps gleaned as much information, knowledge, and training as IBM was willing to give. Then it converted all the theories, general practices and training programs into something applicable to its young leaders at the very lowest levels: Its Corporals; Its team leaders; Its very foundation.
The Marine Corps first taught me Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory (1943). Maslow’s (1943) theory is a motivational theory in psychology that argues that while people aim to meet basic needs, they seek to meet successively higher needs in the form of a hierarchy. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) has often been represented in a hierarchal pyramid with five levels. The four levels (lower-order needs) are considered physiological needs, while the top level is considered growth needs. The lower level needs must be satisfied before higher-order needs can influence behavior.
The first four levels are considered deficiency or deprivation needs, in that their lack of satisfaction causes a deficiency that motivates people to meet these needs. Physiological needs, the lowest level on the hierarchy, include necessities such as air, food, and water. These tend to be satisfied for most people, but they become predominant when unmet. During emergencies, safety needs such as health and security rise to the forefront. Once these two levels are met, belongingness needs, such as obtaining love and intimate relationships or close friendships, become important. The next level, esteem needs, include the need for recognition from others, confidence, achievement, and self-esteem. The highest level is self-actualization, or self-fulfillment. Behavior in this case is not driven or motivated by deficiencies but rather one’s desire for personal growth and the need to become all the things that a person is capable of becoming.
The US Military has mastered the art of motivation by applying Maslow’s theory (1943) to its everyday operations. We, as leaders, are taught that a good leader ensures all their subordinates’ needs are met. In my opinion, the military follows Maslow’s hierarchy to the letter. Young Soldiers are provided with food, shelter, usually environmental controls (air-conditioning), all the positive (or negative, depending upon the needs of