Some executives are motivated by money, while others may be driven by the pursuit of power or influence.
And a mass survey of business leaders in the Middle East has revealed what makes them tick.
Stanton Chase International, an executive search firm, used a software tool called TalentScan to assess hundreds of people in the region.
More than 350 companies and organisations were asked to identify up to 15 senior executives to take the online survey.
Typical questions included asking them to state their priorities from about 25 options or to choose words to express how they see themselves.
The software uses the answers to build a picture about why they do what they do and how they do it.
"The usefulness of this tool is it helps you outline your organisation's culture - what moves people in your organisation, what motivates them so you don't give them the wrong kind of praise," says Wassim Karkabi, the regional practice leader of the industrial sector covering Europe, Middle East and Africa for Stanton Chase, Dubai.
"You might be paying an arm and a leg in bonuses when you don't really need to because your organisation and the people in your company don't really care about them."
So what is the biggest motivator among executives in the Middle East? The desire to be in the spotlight - which can be a plus, but runs the risk of alienating other employees.
"As a group, these leaders show an ability to think 'outside of the box' and take appropriate risks. They stand up for their own ideas and rights, and project confidence to others," says a report on the results.
"They also have the risk of alienating some of their direct reporting personnel and employees because of frequently wanting to be in the spotlight."
The bottom line is another big motivator of Middle East business leaders.
"That's the good news," says the report. "They are keen business people who keep their financial goals in mind for their organisations, and for themselves."
But it can come at the expense of other aspects, such as standards, recognising others in the organisation or spending time with their families.
"Without attention to these important areas, the high money drive can be self-defeating, and even in the midst of a high-drive, it can lower the overall optimal performance of an organisation," the report warns.
The desire to help others came in third with the executives.
This may seem at odds with the executives' love of the spotlight, but it actually makes sense, says Mr Karkabi.
"They are in a role where they are transferring information and they feel more important because of it," he says.
"The self-actualisation part of it is where you disseminate all the knowledge that you have collected … down back to the ranks. This is the helping part, the coaching part."
The fourth-highest score was influence. Middle East executives are competitive and like to take charge of projects.
The desire to position their companies as knowledge and information leaders in their respective industries came in fifth, followed by the ability to be problem-solvers who come up with creative solutions.
The survey also showed that Middle East executives are decision-makers. They can be flexible with rules and regulations when required, but tend to be more reserved in their dealings with others.
Being more reserved comes from the fact they are working in an area with a melting pot of cultures.
"There is a cultural gap, a difference, between people coming in and those local to the region," says Mr Karkabi.