Anyone in a leadership position knows the challenges of managing a diverse group of personalities. However, it's just as important to understand your mental models -- or what motivates you. Emotionally intelligent leaders understand a thing or two about mental models, which are ingrained beliefs that profoundly influence your thoughts and actions, and play a key role in motivation. These core beliefs are shaped throughout your life, typically by your most important -- or most traumatic -- life experiences. Over time, they serve as guides for the way you interpret current and future dilemmas, and they eventually become the well-worn paths of your expressed social behavior.
As an executive coach, I help clients identify and process their mental models -- it is an integral part of the coaching process. Once you understand what influences your behavior and what drives your motivation, you can then consciously rewire your brain to a more desired way of thinking or behavior. My company recently invested a great deal of time and research, examining personal motivators and uncovered some interesting data.
There are four overarching themes, or mental models, that influence all behavior. Three of the mental model factors (control, achievement and affiliation) have existed for decades in various forms and were congruent with behavioral scientists' motivational theories (including David McClelland's classic work outlined in his 1961 book, The Achieving Society.) However, we uncovered a fourth factor in our research, which is security. We were particularly curious about investigating how these driving motivations influence the way we communicate during stressful social situations.
After identifying the practical details of how these mental model factors operate, we discovered that our most dominant motivation model impacts the language you use, the emotional responses you tend to reveal, and the semiconscious agendas you carry into each social interaction. The four mental model factors are defined below.
The concept of winning versus losing; getting your own way on a given issue and having your needs met and desires fully heard and understood are key concepts when driven by control. Interactions with others are focused on influencing, motivating and using power to convince others to align with your preferred goals and vision. The more evident this mental model dimension is, the more likely you are to have marked emotional reactions centered around your values and/or your personal needs and desires. Others may view strong control behaviors as forceful, confrontational and inflexible.
When you are aligned with this motivation, you are focused on solving problems, making progress toward goals and resolving differences between people objectively and rationally. Relationships and interactions with others are often described through a practical, utilitarian lens. The more apparent this mental model dimension is, the more likely you are to have emotional reactions to obstacles, delays, distractions and disengaged people. Others may view strong achievement behaviors as exhausting and relentless.
Relationships are everything if you are driven by affiliation. Energy is spent to ensure that people are reasonably satisfied with each interaction that transpires, even if this means altering your own preferences to better match the needs of others -- or to prevent strife and conflict. Outcomes are judged by external validation. The more evident this mental model dimension is, the more likely you are to have emotional reactions to avoid arguments and disagreements. Those with an evident affiliation drive are likely to judge people in contention, or engaging in acts of defiance as stubborn, cold, counterproductive and unwilling to compromise or build consensus. Others may perceive affiliation behaviors as signs of passivity, detachment and disengagement.
If you are primarily motivated by security, self-protection, risk mitigation, and asserting boundaries influence your behavior. Trust is earned over time, and until it is established, outcomes geared toward protecting the best interests of one's self, family, friends, boss, and others, are of paramount importance. Those dominant in this model have an emotionally guarded nature, aimed at avoiding time and energy-wasting social behaviors that cause undue stress, disputes and counterproductive disagreements. The stronger this mental model dimension is, the more likely you are to have marked emotional reactions to behaviors perceived as threatening or manipulative. Others may view strong security behaviors as elusive, protective, defensive and self-serving.
Mental models function as cognitive scripts that lead you to form belief statements -- often unconsciously -- about yourself, the motives of other people, and the world in which we live. A dominant mental model helps you to thrive and often leads you to remarkable levels of success. As a consequence, however, mental models can also dominate how you interpret your world, and over time, they can become limiting and oppressive. In relationships at work and at home, your mental models can become weaknesses that prevent you from truly flourishing. The good news is that there are several methods to help you identify your core motivating mental models. Working with a qualified executive coach or reflective journaling is an excellent place to start.