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Four Underlying Motivations To Good Decisions

Pat arrived at the office early. She hadn’t slept well the night before because she was wrestling with an important decision that needed to be made in her Executive Committee meeting that morning. They had been evaluating the development and launch of a new product for the past six months. Today they needed to make a final decision on whether they were going to move forward. The discussions had been thorough yet difficult with wide-ranging opinions on what they should do. There was significant risk associated with the launch, but the potential reward could be a greatly improved market share. As CEO, she needed everyone to make a full commitment to the decision, and while the objective analysis appeared to lead the team to adopt it, a number of other issues had arisen, and there was a lot of debate.

Jim, VP of Sales was elated with his team’s performance over the past year. The current product generated large bonuses for his team. A shift to the new replacement product in the coming year would negatively impact those bonuses and morale would surely suffer. Thus, he anticipated difficulty retaining his best salespeople, and he wasn’t sure how to effectively motivate the group.

Maurice, Manufacturing VP continued to experience challenges with the equipment used to manufacture the current product. The investment to shift to a new product could provide the necessary funding to support badly needed upgrades in the plants. However, he didn’t want to go through yet another launch using technology he wasn’t familiar with. His direct report, a Mexican national, had come up with this new manufacturing technology and Maurice’s own lack of knowledge was glaringly obvious, thus he was afraid of the potential threat to his position.

Jenna, the CFO, looked forward to the expected boost in revenue that this new product would provide. She purposefully developed a three-year projection showing that the company’s profitability would significantly increase and was hopeful that the board would consider her a strong successor to the CEO in their upcoming meeting. It was well known among the team that she had lofty career goals.

Jonathan, Engineering VP was not a fan of the new product. He had a different priority for the company strategy and this would take resources away from his pet project. If he were able to persuade the team to instead bring the technology to market that he had been working on for the past decade, this would elevate his standing among his peers in the industry and potentially lead to a cushy retirement job leading the national professional association.

Good Decisions

Pat’s quandary wasn’t about the quality of analysis leading up to this decision. It was about the motivation driving each leader. Good decisions are the product of a variety of objective factors as well as subjective factors, the How and the Why of decision making. 

The well-known Myers Briggs Type Indicator personality assessment provides an effective guide on How to make decisions factoring in diverse styles. Called the “Z” model, it outlines a deliberate sequence that engages all preferences of individuals involved in the decision process.

First address the way a person gathers information.

  • Ask Sensing questions to define the problem based on the information you take in through your five senses.
  • Ask Intuitive questions to consider the possibilities, a sixth sense.

Then address the way a person makes decisions.

  • Ask Thinking questions based on logic, organization and structure, to weigh the consequences of each course of action.
  • Ask Feeling questions to weigh the alternatives based on personal values.

But a powerful driver for decision making is to understand the Why or the motivation behind the decision. Understanding Why can have a greater impact on the quality of decisions than simply understanding How to make quality decisions. 

Underlying Motivations

Decisions may be motivated by several factors.

  1. Abundance vs. Scarcity – Leaders who believe in abundance make decisions based on a belief that there are sufficient resources to invest in people. They give to others and support their growth. Leaders who believe in scarcity make decisions to benefit themselves, frequently at the expense of others. They are not sensitive to others who go without.
  2. Personal conviction vs. Public praise – Leaders who prioritize their personal convictions make decisions based on their core values. Identifying these core values is important in determining cultural fit within organizations. Leaders who desire public praise make decisions that will bring them recognition and notoriety. They have more of a “me first” approach, ensuring their personal advantage in situations.
  3. Purpose vs. Pressure – Leaders who know their unique purpose in life make decisions that will help them to accomplish it. They have a deep understanding of their personal why based on their values and personal introspection. Leaders who make decisions responding to pressure focus on what others desire them to do. They shift with the wind and organizational politics.
  4. Conscious understanding vs. Unconscious bias – Leaders who make decisions based on conscious understanding take the time to gain a deeper understanding of driving factors, and value diversity of thought. Leaders who make decisions based on unconscious bias may negatively and unfairly impact others based on personal prejudices and limited facts.

To arrive at the best decisions with their teams, leaders must address not only the How, but the Why. They must get to the root of the underlying motivations. With a better understanding of this, Pat worked with each leader to address their motivational issues and ensure their commitment to a successful product launch.

About the author

Priscilla Archangel

Priscilla Archangel, Ph.D. is a seasoned leadership consultant, executive coach, author, speaker, and teacher. She has a passion for developing leaders, and motivating individuals and organizations to align their values, behaviors and goals with their purpose. Visit

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