Why are some people self-led?

(This is from Edition 33 of The Upleveler)


One of our Pause at Yellow questions triggered this topic.


Let's say your colleague was an American named Steven Pruitt. He has over 2.5 million edits to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. It's thanks to people like him that Wikipedia is what it is. And what has he earned from it? No money, only goodwill.

So what motivates Pruitt? Especially when the usual answers about money, status, and power don't apply? 

Pruitt might be an ordinary person but he is extraordinarily self-led when it comes to contributing to Wikipedia. 

Self-leadership is a scarce but valuable trait

Every customer of ours keeps talking about getting people to 'take charge' - of their destiny and in turn the team and company's. A lot of our conversations centres around understanding motivations - what is it about some people that makes them go above and beyond?

It helps to have a map to answer this question. One such map comes from the work of psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, which has been put in consumable form by the book 'Drive'. 

There are four dimensions you can keep in mind:

  • Autonomy: for some people, having control over how and when they do a task is important.

  • Mastery/Competence: some are driven by getting better at a skill or piece of knowledge.

  • Relatedness: Some care about the way their work interacts with and influences others.

  • Purpose: why are we doing this task? Is there a greater mission or destination?

For someone like Pruitt, he can choose what Wikipedia topics to contribute to, he probably taps into Mastery when he puts his knowledge into Wikipedia, and what he does has an impact at a global scale. Offering him money might just debase his feeling of intrinsic motivation.

If you are a leader trying to move people towards self-leadership, read up on 'Drive' and 'Start with Why'.

If you are an individual and want to take charge of your future relevance, use this map to examine what elements are important to you and which situations let you express these elements the best. 

That is, find your inner Steven Pruitt!

Pruitt was named one of the 25 most influential people on the planet. Read about him here.

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