Motivating: Promotion versus Prevention Mindset

Lesson 2: Topic 5 of 14

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What motivates you and your staff members towards achievement? Possessing a promotion attitude is what drives creative, reward-seeking types to take risks. Their prevention-minded peers avoid taking chances unless they feel backed into a corner, when more is likely to be lost through inaction. “Leaders with a promotion mindset are focused on winning and gains. They identify a specific purpose, goal, or destination and prioritize making progress toward it,” say Gottfredson and Reina. On the other hand,  “Leaders with a prevention mindset … are focused on avoiding losses and preventing problems at all costs.”

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A rural hospital and nursing home we once worked with was in the unusual and enviable position of having multiple revenue streams. ‘Robert,’ however, was driven as CEO by his desire to preserve his facility’s significant cash reserves, and openly admitted his fear that the money would dry up some day. He would brag to department heads, “We could build a building if we chose – no loan needed!” Yet he withheld raises to worthy employees and reduced staffing to the bare minimum. Robert also refused to prioritize replacing a much-needed transportation vehicle, attempting to save money by retrofitting an old van that would barely run and didn’t function well for the residents’ needs. His “penny wise but pound foolish” approach was demoralizing. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on prevention – it can be quite important – but Robert was overly risk-averse, and as a result he created unnecessary tensions and lost quality people. 

Depending on the circumstances, motivation may shift between promotion and prevention, but most of us will generally prefer one over the other. Remember, neither is ‘better’ than the other; both are important to success. For any enterprise to thrive it must take risks while mitigating loss. But two must be kept in balance. 

A leader overly focused on avoiding risk will miss many opportunities, and one who takes too many chances won’t fully anticipate and plan for crises and downturns.