Motivation: Leading the Underestimated

Photo by Jerry Zhang on Unsplash

Last month I encouraged my leadership team to discover the motivation that drives those they are guiding. Anyone coming from a non-traditional background comes to a point in their career, often very early, where they have to push themselves to keep going, though the outlook looks bleak. It is not always apparent that this is happening. It is incumbent upon those that are mentoring, guiding, leading, advising those in that predicament to remind them of their “why.”

For me, the decision to enter tech was not on a whim or due to the allure of the six-figure stereotypical developer getting rich in Silicon Valley. Seriously? Who even wants that? Not to mention it did not exist. For me becoming a computer programmer started from pure love and curiosity of technology. Growing up in the small urban setting of Gary, Indiana, in the late eighties — nineties, I was the most tech-savvy person I knew. I was in charge of programming every piece of technological equipment in all my family members (the VCR, watches, computers, printers — you know, all the latest gadgets). I knew I would grow up to work behind a computer in some capacity. I was always curious, always exploring, never afraid to try, and keep trying to get a device to do what I needed it to do. Eventually, this became second nature.

As I progressed academically and pursued opportunities to hone my innate interest, it became more apparent that there were not many like me working towards the same outcomes. Once I aged a bit, it became less “cute” that I’d be pursuing such an ambitious goal. I was less invited to share, collaborate or learn from others. Instead, it was up to me to figure it out. Once it became a lucrative career path with long-term financial stability and highly sought after by those with more privilege, access, and free time, I was discouraged from considering pursuing this career path.

Unfortunately, it was too late. I was already bit by the tech bug. It did not matter that I was a mother; it did not matter that I dropped out of college, changed my major, raised a family, and was over thirty. I would not quit pursuing this opportunity nor shy away from finding creative ways of using my love of tech to support my growing family. All of these things and more just became fuel for my motivation — making me doggedly determined to keep going.

This is true even now. I can still relate to those 1, 5, or even 10 years behind me professionally because I am confronted with similar challenges regularly in my pursuit to make this journey a bit less of a burden, more equal for others. Knowing my why and for whom I strive has guided me, humbled me, and allows me to stay the course even when the path ahead is gloomy or unclear. Sometimes I lean upon those closest to me and even those I work in service of to remind me of my why. It keeps me going and has gotten me to where I am, and pushes me to do more.

Above all else, leaders must work to understand what motivates others they are leading as they will sometimes need to be reminded… so be there to remind them. While many leadership books address this as important to ensuring the right people are doing the right job leading to higher profit. People leaders and managers need to consider the human aspect of motivation. It is profitable sure, but being in a leadership position also comes with the opportunity to positively or impact an individual’s life trajectory. Accepting the role as a people leader encompasses more than checking a box. Take the time to know those you lead. Take the time to really unpack their why… be open to the possibility that this too can evolve. Recognize when others need to be reminded or encouraged to discover their own motivations. Finally, don’t judge others' motivation as it will be personal and unique to them — encourage, support, and sometimes SHOVE!

Happy Leading!



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Kimberly Lowe-Williams

CEO at The Difference Engine. Providing real-life software development to nontraditional developers and nonprofits. #PipelineBuilder #NonprofitLeader