Motivational Leadership

I’m often asked “how do I keep my people motivated?” Sometimes the question will pertain to a particular person such as “How do I motivate Bob?”

In either case my answer is almost always the same. Now I know it’s not a good practice to answer a question with a question but for these instances I make an exception. My answer is “I don’t know, what does “Bob” say when you ask him what motivates him?”

I’m usually answered with silence.

I just kind of let that silence hang there for a few seconds and then I expand on my answer. I tell them, honestly, that I can’t have any idea what truly motivates a particular person or team unless I’ve asked the team or person.

One of the key responsibilities of a leader is to help their people stay motivated. That being the case I am always surprised at how few leaders know what motivates their people. They either guess or they try to motivate them with the most common, strongest motivators: fear, anger, and spite.

Just because those are the strongest and most common motivators doesn’t mean those are the best motivators. They are not!

If you want to know what motivates your people or if you want to know how to motivate your people then ask them. They may not have an immediate answer so give them a day or two to consider the question. Encourage them to give it serious consideration because their answer could be the key to unlocking the door to their future success.

When talking with your people about their motivation consider these questions:

What are you passionate about?
What work would you do for free if you could afford it?
What could I do to show you how important you are to me and our organization?
What are your hobbies and interests?

I’ve talked to leaders about asking these questions and I usually get the same two “hesitations.” The first one is that the questions seem “weird.” It seems to the leader that it is too personal or invasive to discuss these matters. My answer to that is always the same… leadership is about people, people and nothing but people. If you think it’s “weird” to truly get to know your people then you will struggle as a leader of those people.

By the way, the questions are only “weird” to the person asking them for the first time, to the person being asked they generally feel good about someone caring enough to actually ask.

The second hesitation is one of time. They say they simply can’t afford to “spend” the time getting to know their people. Keep in mind, these are the same leaders who would proudly say that their people are their organization’s greatest asset. If they don’t have time to spend on their most important asset then what are they spending their time on?

I encourage leaders to NOT think in terms of “spending” time “on” their people but rather to “invest” time “with” their people. It’s a change of mindset that can make a huge difference in how a leader interacts with their people.

One last thing…. when you discover what motivates your people then use it to THEIR benefit and yours.

14 thoughts on “Motivational Leadership

  1. I’ve worked for only a few people who I consider leaders. A common denominator between them was they got to know me as a person. They wanted to know who I was outside the chunk of 9-5. That went a long way. It really meant something to me. When I was asked to go the extra mile and bring an order forecasted for a future quarter and bring it into the current one, I’d do whatever I could for my boss and the branch. They treated me like a human being vs. a sales dude with a quota.

    • Thanks for the comment Steve. I think true leaders understand this fact: you lead people not stuff and you can’t lead people until you actually know them.

      Real leaders genuinely like people and enjoy getting to know them and it shows in how they treat them.

  2. Brian O'Neill says:

    That is a really an interesting article Steve.
    I have noticed that you use the word “Leaders” and not “managers”.
    Do you think that could also work in a case where the people have lost motivation and when the reason for that lack of motivation is the manager himself? what do you think a manager could do when he is the reason for it?

    • I use the word leader when discussing people. People refuse to me managed, they must be led. I know managers don’t do it on purpose but when they try to manage people they de-motivate them. We manage stuff, inventories budgets, etc. We LEAD people!

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