What drives ‘drive’?

What drives ‘drive’?

Recently three CEOs and two parents have asked me why their employees / teenagers lack ‘drive’. They don’t always mean the same thing when they say ‘drive’. Broadly drive means ‘energy and determination’ or ‘a passion for achievement’, as I prefer to put it. Is drive by these definitions a good thing? That depends on what you have a passion to achieve. Sir David Attenborough’s passion for nature and wildlife has been a main driver of awareness about the climate crisis. Putin’s passion to acquire Ukraine has caused a disastrous war, the loss of many lives, damage to countless others, and cost inflation around the world.

Drive can certainly invent, create, build but it can also destroy.

It does more than that, though. It was once described to me as “infectious enthusiasm”. You catch it from people who behave with GUSTO – as long as you are not cynical about their drive or dismissive of their purposes. A delightful cousin of mine was driven to care for the wasps nest that established itself every spring on the eaves of his house. Not everyone is keen on wasps nests. His enthusiasm for, and assistance of, this herald of warmer weather was as stimulating to me as a spring sunrise or a beautiful bride.

Although drive is created internally it is prompted by an interest in people and things. ’Care’ is such a critical behaviour in our lives. It is about to become even more important under the strictures of AI. To care about people you must wish to live in a world of greater harmony. If everyone were so disposed the world could be a happier place – arguably a more boring one, too. Differing points of view sharpen thinking, stimulate ideas and exercise the brain, guarding it against dementia. They do not have to lead to war.

To help someone discover their drive you must first find out what interests them. Some people you deal with will tell you that nothing does. Persevere, because something interests them for sure, even if it is an activity you don’t like. Why it interests them and what joy they get from it is critical in establishing their drive. This part of the exploration is the hardest. It is worth a good deal of persistent effort. 

To assess someone’s drive you must next find out how much they care for others – and if they do, how they demonstrate it. Some questions of knowledge about current affairs and their own recent behaviour will give you a fair picture of their ‘caring mode’. The answers may not be truthful but the body language and a little practice at reading people will qualify what you hear. Demonstrable emotion is not a measure of caring. The kindest people may be very disciplined and tough. The gentlest can be ruthless.

Even when drive seems selfish it has an implicit element of help for others about it. The fact that they want to acquire, to possess and to control demonstrates their own insecurity.  As soon as they understand this they will start to see others more clearly. Their ability to assess strangers will intrigue them. That is a short step from wanting to know how others see them. What they discover will slowly change their character.

Enabling people to understand how and why they care is the door to discovering what allows them to acquire drive. The way I have expressed it here makes it seem like some kind of  process. It is nothing of the kind. As with all human contact it is not a direct roman road of reason but a meandering Mekong of mood. This one has many tributaries and waterfalls.

There is no greater privilege than to be a bridge over a meandering river.

You cannot force someone suddenly to exhibit dramatic drive. It takes time to overcome suppressed care. You do not arrive at life’s destination in one fell swoop. 

Finally, the lantern will light and the dark cave will give up its secrets.

They will be the explorer’s secrets. Not yours.

Good morning

John Bittleston


If you have experience of lighting up ‘drive’, please share it with us at mentors@terrificmentors.com 

Thank you.

6 May 2023