Good leaders don't need any extra motivation.

“How do you motivate yourself?”

I get asked this question a lot, probably because I appear busy: I run a business school, a VC firm, multiple conferences and a pro-basketball team—oh, and I have five kids!

My answer’s always the same: “I don’t need motivation. If you’re worrying about motivating yourself, it’s already too late.”

The feeling of being motivated is something that should happen naturally. It isn’t something artificial that you can manage from the outside.

The late Hirotaro Higuchi, the CEO who transformed Asahi from an also-ran into Japan’s top beer company in the late 80s, had an interesting take on motivation. He called it “balloon theory.”

“Like gas-filled balloons, people’s natural impulse is to rise,” he explained to me once. “Most companies load people up with all sorts of weights that stop them doing so. As a leader, my job is to get rid of all the junk that holds people down and let them rise.”

In other words, a leader should throw out anything or anyone that depresses people’s natural motivation—silly bureaucratic procedures, nasty, second-rate bosses, whatever.

At GLOBIS, the company I founded, I do my best to apply balloon theory.  That’s why I have a couple of simple management principles.

1. No one has to do anything they don’t believe in.
2. No one has to do anything they don’t want.

In my firm there is no coercion, either intellectual or emotional. People only have to do things they buy into wholeheartedly (and wholeheadedly).

It may sound crazy, but after a moment’s thought you’ll see that it’s just plain common sense.

If you force people to do things they’re reluctant to do, they’ll go about the job half-heartedly. The results will be bad and organizational morale will suffer as a result.

Forcing people to do things they’re reluctant to do actually gives them an incentive to fail. They want everything to go wrong, because then they can come back with, “See? I told you it wasn’t going to work.”

A smart leader never tells people what to do. A smart leader gets people to do the work they want to do and which naturally motivates them.

These are the right conditions for the “balloons” to rise … and the organization to flourish.

But what about me?

On an individual level, we all want to find the things that motivate and energize us. Trouble is, it’s easier said than done. I’ve certainly had times in my career where I felt apathetic and lost.

The toughest period was probably when I came back to Japan after my MBA in the States. Returning to my old job and doing the same tasks was a big anti-climax. I knew I wanted a change, but it was not easy.

What I did was to try and identify the things that naturally motivated and energized me.

How can you do that?

I suggest that you ask yourself a couple of simple questions.

1. What do I enjoy?
2. What is my mission in life?

My answers were:

1. I enjoy creating value from scratch; taking responsibility and being in control; and making people happy. 

2. My mission is to create an eco-system to develop visionary leaders who create and innovate societies. 

As a result, I set up a business school from scratch in 1992 and a venture capital firm in 1996. I’ve certainly had my share of problems to grapple with over the last 25 years, but it’s never been a chore because I believe in and enjoy what I am doing.

So stop trying to pump up your motivation from the outside in. Instead, look into your heart, identify what you really want to do, and then float up, up and away like a balloon—or maybe like a bubble in a nice cool glass of Asahi beer!

Photo by Sunny studio

Mr. Yoshito Hori established GLOBIS Management School in 1992 and GLOBIS Capital Partners in 1996. In 2003, GLOBIS started its original MBA program which, in 2006, received accreditation from the Japanese Ministry of Education and gained “university” status. GLOBIS started a part-time MBA program in English in 2009 and a full-time MBA program in English in 2012.

A Harvard MBA graduate and former Sumitomo Corporation employee, Mr. Hori founded the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Japan Chapter in 1995 and became the first board member from Asia in charge of Asia Pacific region in 1996. He also served on the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s New Asian Leaders Executive Committee and Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership, as well as the Harvard Business School Alumni Board from 2005 to 2008. Currently, Mr. Hori is a board member of the Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), and serves as co-chair of WEF’s Global Growth Companies.

In 2008, he launched the G1 Summit – a Japanese version of the WEF’s annual Davos forum. This led to the foundation of G1 Summit Institute in 2013, which Mr. Hori serves as Representative Director.

Just days after a huge earthquake struck northeast Japan in March 2011, Mr. Hori launched Project KIBOW to support the rebuilding of the disaster-affected areas. The following year Project KIBOW was incorporated as the KIBOW Foundation, which Mr. Hori serves as Representative Director.

An avid enthusiast of the Japanese game Go since age 40, Mr. Hori has been Director of the Nihon Ki-in (Japan Go Association) since June 2013.

Since October 2013, Mr. Hori has hosted a weekly TV program in Japan called Nippon Mirai Kaigi (Japan Future Conference). He has authored several books including Visionary Leaders who Create and Innovate Societies, Six Dimensions of Life, and My Personal Mission Statement.

Mr. Hori received his BS in Engineering from Kyoto University and his MBA from Harvard Business School.

He is an avid swimmer and enjoys spending time with his family, especially his five sons.

Follow him on
LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.