Macro and Micro Motivation

Allow me to share some things I know about economics. I am conditioned based on college courses I took decades ago to think about economics in two realms:

  • Macroeconomics – As the name implies, this is the big picture! It is the study of employment, the forces of productivity and the factors impacting gross domestic product (GDP)
  • Microeconomics – More of a focused spotlight, this is the study of market-specific dynamics and prices. What’s selling? What isn’t?

The relationship between the two can get a bit messy but micro feeds macro and macro is the primary crucible of analysis for predicting an economic cycle.

Comparatively, consider the notion of a leadership cycle. Think of it as what all of us get sucked into when things change. And, as we are all aware at this juncture, the most common descriptor that gets rolled out to describe the dynamics of change is “disruptive.” This is the case because, statistically, most of us prefer some form of stability. We want to learn how to do the things we like, that the organization we work for values, and have the comfort of knowing we can continue to do those things until we determine it is time to learn something else — or not!

The complicated forces of change, not unlike the complicated forces that drive economic cycles, really could care less how we feel about stability. Change is inevitable and, inevitably, change impacts motivation. Consider that those we attempt to influence are asking themselves (and perhaps others) some version of the following categorized questions as they react or respond to disruptive change:

  • Macro motivation – This is big picture and career-focused! Do I support the new direction? Am I in the right job? For that matter, with all of this going on right now, am I with the right company? Do the circumstances presented by this change feel more like an opportunity or a threat?
  • Micro motivation – This is tactical and performance-focused! How much of what I currently know how to do is still going to be relevant? How long is it going to take me to learn new skills? Who is going to teach me what I need to know? Am I excited about all this or quietly scared to death? Is it possible to be a little bit of both all at the same time?

The relationship between these two can get convoluted as well but consider that with a leadership cycle that macro feeds micro, and that leaders need to initiate their attempts to influence with that sequence in mind. Further, consider that leaders have limited (if any) true impact on macro motivation but can have significant positive impact on all things micro.

A few words of explanation: I have come across little that explains the dynamics of macro motivation, leadership and change better than the work of Cy Wakeman. Read her books, listen to her podcasts, sign up for her newsletter.

The essence of her highly practical approach suggests that, as a first step, leaders have a responsibility to clearly communicate the vision of what change will look like and the impact it is projected and intended to have. When that has been accomplished, leaders need to find out “who’s in and who’s out” (macro). Change provides leaders with the opportunity to have a “time-saving; cut to the chase; let’s get it all out on the table; transparent reality check” sort of moment.

The question the leader needs an answer to is some version of this one: “Are you willing to move forward?”

It’s important to understand that this is a moment the follower controls. Macro motivation is, has been and will forever be a follower-driven dynamic. Leaders need to paint a picture of the future, then hold up a mirror and ask those they influence if they honestly see themselves being part of that migration. If the ultimate answer is “yes,” skill building or re-tooling at the micro level begins immediately. If the answer is “no,” transition plans need to be transparently negotiated. With either outcome, disruption is minimized and the cycle will inevitably continue.


  1. Read one (or both) of Cy Wakeman’ s books:
    1. Reality-Based Leadership
    2. No Ego
  2. Based on your own experience leading people through change, how do you differentiate the macro and micro motivation of those you influence?