Management: the art of the possible

“The power of progress is fundamental to human nature, but few managers understand it or know how to use it to boost motivation.”

In an article in this month’s Harvard Business Review, from which the quote above comes, Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer share research that proves performance at both individual and team level is highly affected by small wins. It is the number-one reason people report having had a good day at work, ranking ahead of recognition, incentives, clear goals or support. Equally, minor setbacks have a deleterious effect on motivation and effectiveness.

The authors argue that we tend to ignore the importance of achieving minor milestones and concentrate too much on the long-term goal or major breakthrough that realistically may be unattainable.

Tom Stewart, chief marketing and knowledge officer at Booz & Company, the consulting firm, asks in his blog this month: “Are you motivated – or are you driven?” The distinction is an important one. Being driven, he suggests, is a response to negative pressure (stick) while being motivated is a response to positive energy (carrot). He believes people perform poorly when they feel hassled and pressurised rather than inspired and excited, and points out that managers are particular adept at exerting pressure on themselves that results in them being more driven than motivated.

So what has this to do with women at the top? Two lessons, for me, emerge. The first is that in our desire to see equal numbers of women and men participating in corporate leadership, we should not lose sight of the power of small wins. They help energise the organisation at every level.

The second is that while quotas and legal obligation have their place in catalysing change, they result in companies being forced – or driven – to action. Much more potent are factors that motivate change – increasing the number of talented women proving their worth.

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.