Money, Power, or Freedom: Which Leads to Most Well-Being?

As a leader, you’re in the well-being business. Why? Because when people feel better (physically, emotionally, and mentally) they perform better. They’re also more motivated. Thus, it’s in your best interest to know which drivers influence well-being most.

Unfortunately, the main go-to motivator in many organization is money. Now, there’s nothing wrong with money per se, but in and of itself, it doesn’t make people more inspired about work. In fact, research by Gallup has shown than an increase in salary does not come with a commensurate increase in engagement. Even overall satisfaction doesn’t rise much, as people acclimatize to the new normal.

If not money, then how about power? What does a new title (and the prestige that comes with it) do? After all, a new position offers increased influence, and a greater opportunity for leadership impact. Sounds good, yes?

No. Research from nine different experiments found that while people who don’t have much power do want more of it, they don’t actually want power for power’s sake: they want it for the amount of self-control they think it will bring. In other words, what people really want is autonomy.

Autonomy is so appealing because at its core, it’s about freedom–freedom to do what you want to do, when you want to do it, and how you go about doing it. Along with mastery and purpose, autonomy is one of the three greatest motivators of behavior.

As a leader, this should give you pause. While you can’t necessarily create an environment that gives the people you lead total autonomy, where could you be giving them more autonomy? For example, what would it take for you to let people choose how they go about their work more than you currently do?

Annika, a senior clinical manager at a pharmaceutical company, had a minor epiphany when we discussed this topic. She realized how much she made her team follow her precise directions where it was completely unnecessary. When asked why, she replied,

I tend to think there’s one right way to do things.

In her quest to have things be “right”, Annika hadn’t considered the cost of her overly rigid and controlling behavior. She’d meant to be helpful. She hadn’t seen her choice as one that was squelching the freedom of her team members. And yet that’s what she’d been doing for years.

Promoting autonomy is one of the greatest tools in your motivational toolkit. Find ways to expand others’ freedom, and you’ll both reap the rewards that expanded autonomy brings.

What do you to promote autonomy? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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