How to Motivate People
1) Stop Bribing Them
When actors would ask the great film director Alfred Hitchcock “What’s my motivation?” he would reply, “Your salary.”
Rewards definitely work.
Researchers find that perceived self-interest, the rewards one believes are at stake, is the most significant factor in predicting dedication and satisfaction toward work. It accounts for about 75 percent of personal motivation toward accomplishment. – Dickinson 1999
But as Dan Pink explains in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us there’s a problem with this equation:
Rewards just motivate people to get rewards. When the rewards go away, people stop. And if you want anything other than basic manual labor — if you want creative work or analytical work — rewards can actually backfire.
Dan Pink explains here:
Yes, you need to pay people but you should pay them just enough to take the issue of money off the table.
Pink shows that for complex tasks we’re more motivated by the need for autonomy, mastery and purpose. So if rewards are problematic, what does work?
2) Make Them Feel Something
We often talk about people being motivated by revenge, jealousy, fear, passion… What do these have in common?
Yeah, they’re all feelings. And they’re all powerful motivators.
We rarely do anything we don’t feel and it’s very hard to resist things we do feel. It’s how your brain is structured.
Chip and Dan Heath sum up the research in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard:
Focus on emotions. Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people (or yourself) feel something.
We often think of the workplace as less emotional, more formal and serious. And as far as motivation goes, that’s a terrible idea. What strategies really improve organizations? Research involving 400 people across 130 companies came up with a simple answer:
You must change individual behavior by addressing employee feelings.
…the core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people, and behavior change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people’s feelings.
So what’s the most powerful thing for people to be feeling if you want to increase motivation?
3) Emphasize Progress
Harvard’s Teresa Amabile‘s research found that nothing is more motivating than progress.
This pattern is what we call the progress principle: of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work; of all the negative events, the single most powerful is the opposite of progress—setbacks in the work. We consider this to be a fundamental management principle: facilitating progress is the most effective way for managers to influence inner work life.
A consistent amount of minor success produces much more happiness than occasionally bagging an elephant.
Life satisfaction is 22 percent more likely for those with a steady stream of minor accomplishments than those who express interest only in major accomplishments. – Orlick 1998
You want a steady amount of challenge, achievement and feedback:
Progress is powerful. Encourage people to reflect on how far they’ve come and the good work they’ve done.
That’s not indulgent or fluffy — persistent people spend twice as long thinking about their accomplishments.
Comparing people who tend to give up easily with people who tend to carry on, even through difficult challenges, researchers find that persistent people spend twice as much time thinking, not about what has to be done, but about what they have already accomplished, the fact that the task is doable, and that they are capable of it. – Sparrow 1998
Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, explains how when we feel no progress, when we feel our work is futile, motivation dies:
So you made them feel something. You demonstrated progress. How do you keep the motivation flowing?
4) Form a Cult (Well, Almost)
Not literally. No funky robes or animal sacrifice necessary. But what else unites a cult?
Shared belief. A story.
Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz explains that the best work cultures are actually cults: a group unified by a provocative idea.
In his bestselling book Built to Last, Jim Collins wrote that one of the things that long-lasting companies he studied have in common is a “cult-like culture.” …Collins was right that a properly designed culture often ends up looking cultlike in retrospect, but that’s not the initial design principle. You needn’t think hard about how you can make your company seem bizarre to outsiders. However, you do need to think about how you can be provocative enough to change what people do every day.
Looking at the research: What gives life meaning? Stories. What gives work meaning? Stories. What creates unity and morale? Stories:
Institutions that can communicate a compelling historical narrative often inspire a special kind of commitment among employees. It is this dedication that directly affects a company’s success and is critical to creating a strong corporate legacy…
In his book Leading Minds: An Anatomy Of Leadership Howard Gardner says “stories are the most powerful weapon in the leader’s literary arsenal.”
One of the reasons Lincoln was such a good president was because he was a great storyteller.
So how do you craft a good story that unites and motivates people?
Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, has an interesting theory:
People are engaged and motivated by why we do things more than what we do.
All motivating messages, from Apple’s marketing to Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, do the same thing: They start with “Why.”
Research actually shows nagging works:
Managers who are deliberately redundant as communicators move their projects forward more quickly and smoothly than those who are not.
But have you ever accomplished your best work because someone nagged you? I didn’t think so.
Here’s what to do instead:
- Stop Bribing
- Make Them Feel Something
- Emphasize Progress
- Start A Cult — (With A Story)
Good thinking starts with strong feelings.
These days, if you’re a leader of any type, you can’t simply order people around and expect them to do what you want. They may follow your directions, if you are watching, but once they’re left on their own they’ll go back to doing what they think is important.
Leaders today, more than ever before, have to win people’s cooperation. And there are two main ways of doing so: motivation and inspiration. Although the two words are often used interchangeably, they actually mean quite different things – depending on what you want to achieve.
Motivation is about moving people to act in a way that achieves a specific and immediate goal. When you’re motivating people to do something they may not necessarily want to do, you have to offer them something they want in return.
When coaches give their teams a pep talk during halftime, they are using motivation. They want their players to charge back onto the field or the court with renewed energy and focus, even though they may be too tired or disheartened to try. Their reward? Victory.
To motivate your people:
Tell people exactly what you want them to do. Motivation is all about getting people to take action, so don’t be vague. Avoid generalities like, “I want everyone to do their best.” Say, instead, “I need you to come in over the weekend so we can get this project done on time.”
Limit the amount of time or effort that you’re asking for. It’s easier to ask people to work late work one night or even every night for a week than to expect them to work late indefinitely. Set an end date.
Share in the sacrifice. Leaders don’t ask people to do what they themselves aren’t willing to do. Don’t tell your people to work over the weekend if you’ve got plans for a spa day. Roll up your sleeves and share the load.
Appeal to their emotions. Fear focuses people’s attention and can be an effective motivator. (“If we don’t get this done right now, we’ll all lose our jobs.”) But if you keep resorting to fear, you’ll end up de-motivating people. People are also motivated by-and prefer to be motivated by-positive emotions like excitement, pride, a sense of belonging, and the thrill of achievement.
Give people multiple reasons for doing what you want them to do. You can give your own reason or the organization’s reason for requesting the action. “If we don’t get this project completed on schedule, we’ll lose the contract.” But the best reason of all is always personal. It would be nice if you could give your people extra days off or even a bonus. Or, you may talk about something as intangible as the camaraderie that comes from having achieved something important together. But things being what they are these days, the best you may be able to offer is the hope that no one will lose a job.
Inspiration, on the other hand, involves changing the way people think and feel about themselves so that they want to take positive actions. It taps into people’s values and desires.
Commencement speakers – the best ones, at least – inspire their audiences. They talk about the challenges the graduates will face, either personally or collectively, and the possibilities of making a difference. Inspiration appeals to the best aspirations of people, and its underlying, often unspoken message is “You can become what you want to be.” No reward is promised, other than the reward that comes from within: the sense of personal satisfaction.
As a leader, anytime you talk about values, about identity (either the corporate identity or each person’s identity), and about long-term goals, your intent – whether you know it or not – is to inspire.
To inspire your people:
Be the change you want to inspire. Your reputation, your character, your behavior will inspire people more than anything else. The only way to call the best out of others is to expect the best from yourself.
Tell a story. Stories don’t tell people what to do. They engage people’s imaginations and emotions. They show people what they’re capable of becoming or of doing.
Appeal to people’s value system. Ask them to act in a way that is consistent with the values they themselves profess.
Trust people. When you’re inspiring people, you’re not telling them exactly what to do or giving them precise directions. You’re empowering them to be their best, trusting that they will then do the right thing. And the right thing they do may not be what you were expecting; it may be something beyond your wildest expectations.
Challenge them. People aren’t inspired by doing the ordinary or by meeting expectations. They’re inspired by the exertion, creativity, and sacrifice needed to exceed what they themselves thought possible.
Motivation and inspiration are not the sole province of professional speakers and preachers. They’re tools leaders use all the time – in one-on-one conversations, in meetings and in formal presentations – to bring out the best in their people. It’s just a matter of knowing the right time and the right situation.
When there’s an immediate, short-term and specific goal that you want your people to achieve, you need to motivate them. When you want to shape people’s identity and their long-term aspirations and commitments, you need to inspire them.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the French aviator and author of “The Little Prince”, wrote, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” Sometimes you need to do both. You need to enlist and organize people to do a specific task-to build a ship according to specs, on time and on budget-and sometimes you need to activate people’s desires and stand aside. Who knows, you may be surprised by what they do.
Ask people questions. There are two goals of asking questions. To find out what people are passionate about and to make sure that they know you care about what they think.
If you are at a loss as to what motivates people, their passions are a great start. Do not fall into the error of asking, “What are you passionate about” and taking what they say at face value.
Look for body language signs that reinforce their stated passion. In an era of self help by means of television, radio and new age music, almost everyone is convinced they need to be passionate about something and quite often make it up, even to themselves.
It is better to have a conversation, asking how things could be done better around here. Respond with further questions to explore. The phrase, “Tell me more” works well to open up the conversation further. Have several conversations like this and as trust develops you will find out what motivates people without having to ask.
Having a conversation with people where you are genuinely interested in their responses builds self esteem for the person to whom the questions are directed.
For major and minor changes, go further than asking for advice and opinions; involve people in analysis and design of solutions. It is not necessary to set up quality circles as part of a complete quality management system. Involve people in the definition of the problem and they will own it. Involve them in the analysis to create solutions and they will own the solution alternatives. Involve them in the design of the implementation and they will own the outcome.
When you are anticipating change, let people know what your intentions are. Tell them the goal. Tell them the rationale. Tell them the consequences and timing of what you intend to do. Tell them the consequences and timing of doing nothing. Tell them the process by which things will happen. Tell them how to find out more information. Tell them how to make sure their comments and thoughts are to be included.
Listen to what they think. Listen to what they would rather do. Listen to their aspirations. Listen to how changing things impacts them.
Do this for good news and bad news. Do this as early as possible, often and by several different mediums. Do this for big events and do it on a small scale for small events, such as responding to a conversation you started by asking, “How can we do things better around here.”
In day-to-day business life communicate the standards to which you expect people to perform. Make them explicit standards, not implicit. Do not ask for a public toilet to be clean. Develop a standard on what clean is. The standard will include as a minimum, what is to be done, the measure by which it is evaluated and time elements.
People are not de-motivated by certainty. They are, however, de-motivated by the uncertainty created by the whirlpool of rumor and denial resulting from a vacuum of information when change is anticipated. They are de-motivated by the duplicity of informal standards when none is formally set.
Appreciate people’s achievements in public. Even those who shun the limelight will appreciate being commended in a low key way in public. Be specific. Do not say, “I just want to commend Jim for the great job he is doing”. The assembled group, including Jim, is likely to have two or more views on what behaviors “Doing a great job” reflects.
Say instead, “I want to commend Jim for going out of his way to help our customer stay in business. Jim not only came in on Saturday morning when the customer called in a panic, but he personally delivered the part. Jim did not have to do that. In choosing to do so, he has helped us all get a reputation for superior service”. Nobody is left in doubt as to what behavior, with what consequences, is being commended. It is this precise behavior which will be reinforced.
Reprimand in private. People will talk and the fact a reprimand has been given will be known. Embarrassing people in public will de-motivate. Reprimanding in a constructive manner will motivate.
Reprimand as soon as possible after the event and be as specific about the behavior which is unacceptable and the rationale as to why it is unacceptable as for appreciating behavior. Be specific about the consequences of repeating the behavior. Ask for advice on what can be done to help the person stop the behavior. Work together to eliminate the unacceptable behavior.
If the reprimand does not work, counsel to improve or find employment where the behavior is acceptable. Do not shirk your responsibility to all the other people exhibiting acceptable behaviors, so that a distinction between acceptable and unacceptable behavior is made.
Build people’s strengths and help them eliminate their weaknesses. Make it unacceptable to continue in a position where a weakness is a liability for the team. However, make it acceptable to have a weakness on which people are willing to work. Help them help themselves. Allow more skilled team members to help them. Monitor progress and appreciate progress.
Identify, appreciate and build people’s strengths, especially those who have weaknesses they are working on.
Use all resources at your disposal you can afford. Not only use coaching and training but ask people to train and coach others. Nothing makes people realize their true strengths and weaknesses more than when they are asked to teach. Nothing builds self esteem like being successful at teaching someone else well and watching their behavior change.
Delegate your responsibilities to people who have the competence to execute some of your tasks. State clearly what is expected, setting a standard which is mutually understood. Delegate the authority. Do not double check them as routine. At the beginning of delegation monitor their output as part of an greed standard of handing over delegation. At an agreed level of execution quality, stop monitoring except for normal quality audit purposes. Make sure the data required to execute the tasks is easily accessible.
At work, being responsible, having the competency, authority and tools to be responsible and having the trust of your colleagues, superiors and subordinates is the most powerful motivator of all. Find something, even the smallest thing that an individual can actually be responsible for and you will be on the road to a motivated workforce.
Clearing Up Common Myths About Employee Motivation
The topic of motivating employees is extremely important to managers and supervisors. Despite the importance of the topic, several myths persist -- especially among new managers and supervisors. Before looking at what management can do to support the motivation of employees, it's important first to clear up these common myths.
1. Myth #1 -- "I can motivate people"
Not really -- they have to motivate themselves. You can't motivate people anymore than you can empower them. Employees have to motivate and empower themselves. However, you can set up an environment where they best motivate and empower themselves. The key is knowing how to set up the environment for each of your employees.
2. Myth #2 -- "Money is a good motivator"
Not really. Certain things like money, a nice office and job security can help people from becoming less motivated, but they usually don't help people to become more motivated. A key goal is to understand the motivations of each of your employees.
3. Myth #3 -- "Fear is a damn good motivator"
Fear is a great motivator -- for a very short time. That's why a lot of yelling from the boss won't seem to "light a spark under employees" for a very long time.
4. Myth #4 -- "I know what motivates me, so I know what motivates my employees"
Not really. Different people are motivated by different things. I may be greatly motivated by earning time away from my job to spend more time my family. You might be motivated much more by recognition of a job well done. People are not motivated by the same things. Again, a key goal is to understand what motivates each of your employees.
5. Myth #5 -- "Increased job satisfaction means increased job performance"
Research shows this isn't necessarily true at all. Increased job satisfaction does not necessarily mean increased job performance. If the goals of the organization are not aligned with the goals of employees, the employees aren't effectively working toward the mission of the organization.
6. Myth #6 -- "I can't comprehend employee motivation -- it's a science"
Nah. Not true. There are some very basic steps you can take that will go a long way toward supporting your employees to motivate themselves toward increased performance in their jobs. (More about these steps is provided later on in this article.)
Basic Principles to Remember About Motivation
1. Motivating employees starts with motivating yourself
It's amazing how, if you hate your job, it seems like everyone else does, too. If you are very stressed out, it seems like everyone else is, too. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you're enthusiastic about your job, it's much easier for others to be, too. Also, if you're doing a good job of taking care of yourself and your own job, you'll have much clearer perspective on how others are doing in theirs.
A great place to start learning about motivation is to start understanding your own motivations. The key to helping to motivate your employees is to understand what motivates them. So what motivates you? Consider, for example, time with family, recognition, a job well done, service, learning, etc. How is your job configured to support your own motivations? What can you do to better motivate yourself?
2. Always work to align goals of the organization with goals of employees
As mentioned above, employees can be all fired up about their work and be working very hard. However, if the results of their work don't contribute to the goals of the organization, then the organization is not any better off than if the employees were sitting on their hands -- maybe worse off! Therefore, it's critical that managers and supervisors know what they want from their employees. These preferences should be worded in terms of goals for the organization. Identifying the goals for the organization is usually done during strategic planning. Whatever steps you take to support the motivation of your employees (various steps are suggested below), ensure that employees have strong input to identifying their goals and that these goals are aligned with goals of the organization. (Goals should be worded to be "SMARTER". More about this later on below.)
3. Key to supporting the motivation of your employees is understanding what motivates each of them
Each person is motivated by different things. Whatever steps you take to support the motivation of your employees, they should first include finding out what it is that really motivates each of your employees. You can find this out by asking them, listening to them and observing them.
4. Recognize that supporting employee motivation is a process, not a task
Organizations change all the time, as do people. Indeed, it is an ongoing process to sustain an environment where each employee can strongly motivate themselves. If you look at sustaining employee motivation as an ongoing process, then you'll be much more fulfilled and motivated yourself.
5. Support employee motivation by using organizational systems (for example, policies and procedures) -- don't just count on good intentions
Don't just count on cultivating strong interpersonal relationships with employees to help motivate them. The nature of these relationships can change greatly, for example, during times of stress. Instead, use reliable and comprehensive systems in the workplace to help motivate employees. For example, establish compensation systems, employee performance systems, organizational policies and procedures, etc., to support employee motivation. Also, establishing various systems and structures helps ensure clear understanding and equitable treatment of employees.
Steps You Can Take to Support the Motivation of Others
The following specific steps can help you go a long way toward supporting your employees to motivate themselves in your organization.
1. Do more than read this article -- apply what you're reading here
This maxim is true when reading any management publication.
2. Briefly write down the motivational factors that sustain you and what you can do to sustain them
This little bit of "motivation planning" can give you strong perspective on how to think about supporting the motivations of your employees.
3. Make of list of three to five things that motivate each of your employees
Read the checklist of possible motivators. Fill out the list yourself for each of your employees and then have each of your employees fill out the list for themselves. Compare your answers to theirs. Recognize the differences between your impression of what you think is important to them and what they think is important to them. Then meet with each of your employees to discuss what they think are the most important motivational factors to them. Lastly, take some time alone to write down how you will modify your approaches with each employee to ensure their motivational factors are being met. (NOTE: This may seem like a "soft, touchy-feely exercise" to you. If it does, then talk to a peer or your boss about it. Much of what's important in management is based very much on "soft, touchy-feely exercises". Learn to become more comfortable with them. The place to start is to recognize their importance.)
4. Work with each employee to ensure their motivational factors are taken into consideration in your reward systems
For example, their jobs might be redesigned to be more fulfilling. You might find more means to provide recognition, if that is important to them. You might develop a personnel policy that rewards employees with more family time, etc.
5. Have one-on-one meetings with each employee
Employees are motivated more by your care and concern for them than by your attention to them. Get to know your employees, their families, their favorite foods, names of their children, etc. This can sound manipulative -- and it will be if not done sincerely. However, even if you sincerely want to get to know each of your employees, it may not happen unless you intentionally set aside time to be with each of them.
6. Cultivate strong skills in delegation
Delegation includes conveying responsibility and authority to your employees so they can carry out certain tasks. However, you leave it up to your employees to decide how they will carry out the tasks. Skills in delegation can free up a great deal of time for managers and supervisors. It also allows employees to take a stronger role in their jobs, which usually means more fulfillment and motivation in their jobs, as well.
7. Reward it when you see it
A critical lesson for new managers and supervisors is to learn to focus on employee behaviors, not on employee personalities. Performance in the workplace should be based on behaviors toward goals, not on popularity of employees. You can get in a great deal of trouble (legally, morally and interpersonally) for focusing only on how you feel about your employees rather than on what you're seeing with your eyeballs.
8. Reward it soon after you see it
This helps to reinforce the notion that you highly prefer the behaviors that you're currently seeing from your employees. Often, the shorter the time between an employee's action and your reward for the action, the clearer it is to the employee that you highly prefer that action.
9. Implement at least the basic principles of performance management
Good performance management includes identifying goals, measures to indicate if the goals are being met or not, ongoing attention and feedback about measures toward the goals, and corrective actions to redirect activities back toward achieving the goals when necessary. Performance management can focus on organizations, groups, processes in the organization and employees.
10. Establish goals that are SMARTER
SMARTER goals are: specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic, timely, extending of capabilities, and rewarding to those involved.
11. Clearly convey how employee results contribute to organizational results
Employees often feel strong fulfillment from realizing that they're actually making a difference. This realization often requires clear communication about organizational goals, employee progress toward those goals and celebration when the goals are met.
12. Celebrate achievements
This critical step is often forgotten. New managers and supervisors are often focused on a getting "a lot done". This usually means identifying and solving problems. Experienced managers come to understand that acknowledging and celebrating a solution to a problem can be every bit as important as the solution itself. Without ongoing acknowledgement of success, employees become frustrated, skeptical and even cynical about efforts in the organization.
13. Let employees hear from their customers (internal or external)
Let employees hear customers proclaim the benefits of the efforts of the employee . For example, if the employee is working to keep internal computer systems running for other employees (internal customers) in the organization, then have other employees express their gratitude to the employee. If an employee is providing a product or service to external customers, then bring in a customer to express their appreciation to the employee.
14. Admit to yourself (and to an appropriate someone else) if you don't like an employee
Managers and supervisors are people. It's not unusual to just not like someone who works for you. That someone could, for example, look like an uncle you don't like. In this case, admit to yourself that you don't like the employee. Then talk to someone else who is appropriate to hear about your distaste for the employee, for example, a peer, your boss, your spouse, etc. Indicate to the appropriate person that you want to explore what it is that you don't like about the employee and would like to come to a clearer perception of how you can accomplish a positive working relationship with the employee. It often helps a great deal just to talk out loud about how you feel and get someone else's opinion about the situation. As noted above, if you continue to focus on what you see about employee performance, you'll go a long way toward ensuring that your treatment of employees remains fair and equitable.
If you’re leading a group of people towards success, you must learn how to motivate others. If you concentrate on understanding what motivates others and you meet the needs of these people, you’ll be on the right track for a positive and enlightening experience for all involved.
Once a person’s basic needs are met, they usually move on to working on certain needs of self fulfillment. For example, if someone is hungry, they won’t be able to concentrate on a critical thinking task. In this case you’ll need to make sure that this person has had lunch before the task needs to be completed. But how can you motivate them to complete certain tasks once basic needs have been fulfilled?
Try one or more of the following ways of motivating people:
1. Treat People Kindly. As a leader you need to treat the people helping you with the utmost respect and kindness. Hand out praise when it’s warranted. You might not know it, but it’s a big motivation booster when people are treated right. People enjoy knowing when they’re doing a good job and enjoy working with people that treat others with kindness.
2. Give People Responsibility. If there are certain tasks that you’re allowed to delegate to others, by all means choose someone to take responsibility for that task. When people are fully responsible, they’ll be more likely to find the motivation to complete the task. This is because, as a part of a group, they may not feel like their hard work matters, but when they’re responsible it certainly matters. They also know that they’re being held accountable for the success or failure of the project.
3. Be a Good Listener. No one likes to feel like they don’t matter. Just because you have final say doesn’t mean that you can’t get some help with important decision making. People enjoy feeling like they’re making a difference. Always keep an open ear and you’ll be motivating your team to come up with solutions and creative ideas.
4. Set Stretched Goals. Think long and hard about how your goal setting abilities can teach you how to motivate others. You don’t want to set goals that are too easy. Your team might reach them quickly but they won’t be pushed to become the best they can be. On the other end, you don’t want to set goals that are unattainable either. Your team will quickly lose motivation because they’ll never get the feeling of having met their goals. You want to find a goal that would push them to achieve just a little more than they have in the past and keep going from there.
5. Get to Know People. You may not want to be personal friends with your colleagues, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get to know them as people. Keep lines of communication open and get to know your team by paying attention to their wants, needs, strengths and weaknesses. People are smart and they’ll know when they have a leader that cares and a leader that doesn’t. They’ll certainly be more motivated to work hard for somebody that cares about them.
6. Keep Everyone in the Know. Nobody likes to be left in the dark. Make sure that you’re open about your thinking and decisions with the people you’re motivating. Sure, sometimes there will be things that you’re not supposed to share. You just need to make an effort to spread the word around when you can communicate important issues.
Remember that when you’re working on motivating others, it’s definitely important to strengthen their sense of belonging. You’re leading a little family and when everyone’s happy, they’re motivated to achieve big things.
Despite all research about the nature of leaders, practitioners and scholars still acknowledge that many aspects of leadership remain a mystery. Today I would like to address one of the key mysteries that seems to consistently defy traditional analysis.
Often, leaders are identified as possessing a remarkable quality that sets them apart from others. It causes others to be attracted to them and enables them to achieve remarkable outcomes. That quality has most frequently been labeled “charisma,” a term that comes from the Greek word meaning “gift.” In ancient times people believed this quality was a divine gift bestowed upon some and not others. I, however, intend to prove the following:
- There are different approaches to inspiring leadership that go beyond having “charisma”
- The ability to Inspire and Motivate Others is a behavioral skill that anyone can develop.
When you tell leaders to be more inspiring, my experience is that most of time they are confused about what to do. Should they give more “high 5s”? Be perkier around the office? Stand up and give motivational speeches?
As my colleague Jack Zenger and I began a deeper analysis of what makes leaders inspiring and motivating, we fell into the seemingly logical trap of thinking that charisma, as the term is most often used, is simply a synonym for “being inspiring”. That is no longer our view. We have concluded that being charismatic helps in a small way, for some people in some circumstances, to be perceived as inspiring and motivating. But there are countless leaders who are identified by their colleagues as highly inspiring who are definitely not charismatic.
For example, Warren Buffett is a highly inspirational leader that people trust because of his expertise. If he buys railroads, railroad stocks go up; if he sells, they go down. He definitely inspires others. So does Oprah Winfrey. However, Oprah’s style is much different. She is warm and inviting, and is probably most known as the best interviewer in the world. Two people, both inspiring, but in entirely different ways.
So here’s what we did. We took the 1,000 most inspiring leaders in our database and clustered them together to find out what “approach” they took to inspire those around them. This is where we applied what some might call “reverse engineering”. By finding the leaders who received the highest scores for being inspiring and motivating, we could analyze our data to find the other behaviors that reliably go hand-in-hand with that trait. We were successful in determining that there are six consistent approaches these individuals use. Most leaders tend to use one or two of the six most frequently. Each of the first four traits were used more than 20% of the time as a primary or secondary approach; and the last two are used far less frequently. Here they are:
- Visionary—providing a clear picture of the future and being able to communicate that to the team.
- Enhancing—creating positive one-on-one relationships along with team relationships by being a great listener and connecting emotionally with people.
- Driver—displaying a focused pursuit to make the numbers and complete things on time and generally being accountable for personal and group performance.
- Principled—providing a powerful role model of doing the right things in the right way.
- Enthusiast—exuding passion and energy about the organization, its goals and the work itself.
- Expert—providing a strong technical direction that comes from deep expertise.
The important “aha” for most who review these findings is that they have previously assumed (as we all tend to do) that being inspiring required someone to be an “enthusiast”. Most people are highly relieved to discover there are other ways to inspire, and they pleased to discover they tend to naturally gravitate toward one of the predominant first four traits. Our research also shows that leaders who use more than one of these leadership approaches are more inspiring to their subordinates than those who rely primarily on one.
Can leaders learn to become more inspiring? Next we put a group of more than 300 leaders to the test over a 18-24 month period of time. During that time they were able to improve their ability to inspire others by 10 percentile points or more, which is a statistically significant increase. Notice in the graph below that as a group, these leaders moved from below average– 42nd percentile—to the 70th percentile—a significant leap.
This evidence is clear. With awareness, good feedback and a plan of development, leaders are most definitely able to make significant improvement on this most important of all leadership competencies.
Some believe inspiration is just something leaders need to provide on big occasions. They see it as the yearly speech where leaders get up in front of the employees to get them revved up and encouraged. However, inspiration is much more than this. Everything a leader does, every day, impacts their employees. If a leader would take even a few minutes to ask people how they’re doing, thank them and encourage them to do more; that effort counts. In fact, everything counts. Likewise, everything employees do, on every level, counts within the organization’s results as a whole.
You don’t have to have “charisma” to inspire the people around you. Find your preferred methodology, and start making it count.
If I was a super hero I’d want my super power to be the ability to motivate everyone around me. Think of how many problems you could solve just by being able to motivate people towards their goals. You wouldn’t be frustrated by lazy co-workers. You wouldn’t be mad at your partner for wasting the weekend in front of the TV. Also, the more people around you are motivated toward their dreams, the more you can capitalize off their successes.
Being able to motivate people is key to your success at work, at home, and in the future because no one can achieve anything alone. We all need the help of others. So, here are seven ways to motivate others even you can do.
Most people start out trying to motivate someone by giving them a lengthy speech, but this rarely works because motivation has to start inside others. The best way to motivate others is to start by listening to what they want to do. Find out what the person’s goals and dreams are. If it’s something you want to encourage, then continue through these steps.
2. Ask open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions are the best way to figure out what someone’s dreams are. If you can’t think of anything to ask, start with, “What have you always wanted to do?”
“Why do you want to do that?”
“What makes you so excited about it?”
“How long has that been your dream?”
You need this information the help you with the following steps.
This is the most important step, because starting a dream is scary. People are so scared they will fail or look stupid, many never try to reach their goals, so this is where you come in. You must encourage them. Say things like, “I think you will be great at that.” Better yet, say, “I think your skills in X will help you succeed.” For example if you have a friend who wants to own a pet store, say, “You are so great with animals, I think you will be excellent at running a pet store.”
4. Ask about what the first step will be.
After you’ve encouraged them, find how they will start. If they don’t know, you can make suggestions, but it’s better to let the person figure out the first step themselves so they can be committed to the process.
This is the most fun step, because you can dream about success. Say things like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if your business took off, and you didn’t have to work at that job you hate?” By allowing others to dream, you solidify the motivation in place and connect their dreams to a future reality.
6. Ask how you can help.
Most of the time, others won’t need anything from you, but it’s always good to offer. Just letting the person know you’re there will help motivate them to start. And, who knows, maybe your skills can help.
7. Follow up.
Periodically, over the course of the next year, ask them how their goal is going. This way you can find out what progress has been made. You may need to do the seven steps again, or they may need motivation in another area of their life.
By following these seven steps, you’ll be able to encourage the people around you to achieve their dreams and goals. In return, you’ll be more passionate about getting to your goals, you’ll be surrounded by successful people, and others will want to help you reach your dreams … Oh, and you’ll become a motivational super hero. Time to get a cape!