What Great Leaders Understand About Employee Motivation

Motivation, solution, success key

One of your team members is disengaged at work. What do you do as a leader?

Do you let it slide because of the Pandemic? Do you say something immediately, or do you wait a few weeks? Do you give them time off in hopes they rekindle the fire? 

The answer to these questions all relates to truly understanding motivation, but probably not in the way you’re thinking.

Most leaders think of motivation as something people should have all the time. In reality, motivation is someone’s willingness to do something that fluctuates over time. Researchers define motivation as a reason for actions, willingness, and goals. The word is derived from the word motive or a need that requires satisfaction.

As simple as this definition is, the layers of complexity behind being and staying motivated are more complicated than most people realize. Organizational leaders need to be aware of this because part of their job is related to helping others be and stay motivated. Dwight D. Eisenhower said it well: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done, because he wants to do it.”  

Leadership requires getting to someone’s heart, management requires exerting authority. 

Even though there are sentiments of coercion in Eisenhower’s definition, the statement holds truth. Because leadership requires getting to someone’s heart, while management only requires leveraging authority.   

What Bad Leaders Get Wrong About Motivation

One of the surprising things about motivation is that each person can be motivated by different things. Those motivations can also shift as needs are met, or as situations change. James Clear provides some great ideas about the Science of Motivation here.

However, bad leaders fail to recognize this. Bad leaders move forward under the assumption that their team is motivated by the same goals, failing to recognize their differences. 

Bad leaders assume that others are motivated by the same things they are motivated by.  

In the for-profit business world, this often manifests itself in the carrot that is money. Now before you go thinking I will bash financial returns as a lousy motivator, stop yourself. Finances are one of the common motivators for professionals, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, money is not the only one. Part of your job as a leader is to understand what I call a “Prime Motivation” for each team member. Some of the other “Prime Motivators” outside of financial rewards include: Praise from Others, Being Challenged or Solving Tough Problems, Being Heard or Known, Helping Others’ Have Success.

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How to Properly Help Motivate Team Members

As a leader, you are responsible for energizing your team and helping them become motivated to be at their best. The good news is that boosting your employees’ enthusiasm isn’t necessarily as hard — or time-consuming — as you might expect. 

1. Connect Them to a Deeper Cause

What I have found in my work helping leaders from different industries is we are most inspired by our impact on other people. We will work harder and longer and better—and feel happier about the work we are doing—when we know that someone else is benefiting from our efforts.

So the fastest and most effective path to helping motivate people on a daily basis is by connecting them to the deeper cause behind their work. Even the most repetitive jobs and tasks, when tied to a deeper cause, can be incredibly motivating and rewarding.  

If you have never done this exercise before or if your primary target has solely been a revenue number at the end of the year, I would ask yourself this simple question:

How do you help improve the lives of others who are positively impacted by your team’s effort?

The answer to this question gets to the root of the deeper cause behind your team’s work.

2. Provide a Maximizing Mantra

Mantras may only be a few words long, but they can have a powerful motivating impact. After studying great leaders in different industries, it’s clear they tap into their power to help motivate their team. I refer to these in Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success as “Maximizing Mantras.” A maximizing mantra provides energy to the team even before you achieve the results. With just a few words, you create the inspirational drive that helps inspire future successes.

One of the most recent (and well-known) maximizing mantras was college football coach P.J. Fleck’s “Row the Boat,” which helped bring the previously overlooked Western Michigan football team into the limelight with a winning record and a spot in the 2017 Cotton Bowl. The mantra has come to define the coach and his teams, even after moving to a new job at the University of Minnesota.

In an interview with MLive, Fleck explained that the mantra referred to three parts: the oar, which provided the energy, the boat, which represented the sacrifices that team members, administration, and fans were willing to make for the program, and finally, the compass, which symbolized the direction the team wanted to go. Combining all these ideas into a single phrase served as a powerful motivator for the team.

When you find short, simple phrases that encapsulate big ideas, you can quickly inspire your team to work harder and with more intensity than they’ve ever had before.

3. Encourage Them to Pursue Things Outside of the Workplace.

The most controversial way to motivate a team member is to encourage them to pursue ambitions and goals outside of work that is in alignment with their prime motivator. We are in a brand new era of work, where in most industries outside of the manufacturing space, work can be completed anywhere and anytime.  

Instead of acting like the job someone is doing as a part of your team or organization is the only thing on the planet, take the opposite mindset. Encourage them to pursue fitness goals, side hustles, or family passions. Things like running a marathon, starting an eCommerce business, or coaching a kids soccer team.  

Not only will your people appreciate the fact that you are with the times, but they will also develop confidence and skills by pursuing passions outside of work that will help them do their job more efficiently and effectively. 


These ideas and strategies are just the tip of the iceberg as it relates to motivation. The fact you are thinking about and are concerned about adequately motivating yourself and others in ways beyond cracking the whip or just throwing more money at the problem places you far ahead of the competition.  

Energizing and motivating your team isn’t something that consistently happens in strategy meetings or a brief virtual encounter on Zoom or Slack. It’s best done in arranged one-on-one coaching sessions dedicated to understanding each person and their goals on a deeper level. By taking a little time out of your schedule to use these unique motivational tactics, you can give your team the drive they need to succeed.

Live Coaching for Excellence Workshop: Block one hour on your calendar to sharpen your coaching skills by joining the Coaching for Excellence Workshop. Learn more and sign up.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Find Good in Tough Times and Help Others Do the Same

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“Tough times come to teach, instruct, and to make us stronger.”

In season 25, episode 10, John Eades covers how to find good in tough times.  In light of Covid-19 and the death of George Floyd, times are tough.  However, we can find good in tough times and help others do the same.

Listen on iTunes

Finding Good in Tough Times

I can’t recall a more difficult and trying time in history.  While each person is being affected by Covid-19 and George Floyd differently,  if you are a deep thinker they make you question everything.  From how you were raised to what you are doing professionally, and even the strength of your faith.  

But tough times come upon us for a reason.  They come to teach, instruct, and to make us better.  This doesn’t mean tough times are easy or aren’t without real struggle, pain, and even suffering.  But it doesn’t have to end there.

You can find good in tough times. 

Not only can you find good, but you can help others find good as well. 

Encourage Others in Tough Times

There are different ways to help others find good in tough times but none more important than encouraging them. The word encourage is defined as; to give support, confidence, or hope to someone. When you encourage someone else it goes right to their heart. The word encourage comes from the pre-fix “en” to put into and the latin word “core” which means heart. 

Simple Phrases to Encourage Others 

  • “You can do this.”
  • “You were born for this.”
  • “The difference you are making will add up over time.”
  • “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” 
  • “You haven’t given up yet for a reason, you know deep down your worthy.”
  • “You are a blessing”

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making virtual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of  Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Most Managers Don’t Know How to Encourage Others. But They Can Learn.

“Leaders who don’t encourage will eventually be surrounded by a discouraged team.”

In 1832, Abraham Lincoln lost his job and was defeated in a bid for the state legislature. That defeat set off a string of failures and heartbreak for the future-president. His business failed, leaving him in debt for the next 17 years; his fiance died unexpectedly; he had a nervous breakdown causing him to be homebound for two years; he lost seven elections.  

While we will never know what was going on in the heart of Lincoln during those setbacks, he never gave up and got discouraged. Not only did his tenacity and courage payoff, but the skills and toughness he acquired helped him lead during turbulent times. Today he is widely considered to be one of the greatest presidents of the history of the United States because of his fantastic accomplishments. 

Tough times don’t last, tough people do.  

Lincoln is proof of the truth behind Robert Schuller words.

Why getting discouraged will destroy you

If there is a time you’re going to get discouraged, it’s now. A seemingly endless period of uncertainty, fear, and doubt clutters your mind daily. Instead of getting up early to read, workout, or beat the traffic, you are faced with the all-important decision about whether you should shower or not before you start remote work. 

Regardless of your particular situation, no one is exempt from getting discouraged. The word “courage” comes from the Latin root “cor,” which means “heart.” So literally, the word discouraged means, “disheartened.” While no one would blame you for having a broken heart about the current situation, it’s losing your heart that we can’t allow to happen.  

A broken heart is okay, losing your heart isn’t.

While it’s possible for one superhuman professional to single handily find ways not to get discouraged, that’s the exception, not the rule. We need leaders to encourage us and keep us moving forward. If you find yourself in a position where you need to do this for others, here are some strategies:

1. Start with empathy about their situation

One of my mentors told me early in my career, “Everybody is going through something whether you know it or not.” Start from a place of empathy.  

Remote workers are juggling working from home and teaching their kids at the same time. For the first week, my kids were out of school, I didn’t believe it was a tough job. In the last two weeks, I’ve experienced the challenges of teaching my son, I have great empathy for any working parent who is in the same boat.  

Even if you haven’t been in an employees exact position, you can still empathize. When you do this, they will be more open to the strategies and the words you decide to use.

2. Focus on your environment to maintain hope

One of the exceptional leaders I wrote about in Building the Best, Bob Caslen, provided fantastic insight in an email interview this week. He said:  

“One of the most important things leaders must do in crisis and adversity is to maintain hope. If hope becomes forlorn, then morale quickly plummets. In order to maintain hope, the leader must know the environment; where the challenges are and where the opportunities are. He or she must have the agility and adaptiveness to find the opportunities and to develop and pursue them. It is in this environment, that hope is maintained, and where hope can grow. And when hope is strong, people do not get discouraged.”

Take Caslen’s words to heart and focus your efforts on understanding your team’s environment. Explore strategies and solutions to that will allow your team to quickly adapt and pivot to provide hope to your people.  

3. Use specific words and phrases

Words are powerful things. To keep your team from becoming discouraged, you must use strong and powerful language. In the latest episode of the Follow My Lead podcast, Mike Robbins, author of the new book We’re All in This Together, shared a powerful lesson all leaders need to add to their arsenal: “Even though it doesn’t seem like it, you have more than this moment requires.”

I don’t know a better, more powerful phrase for you to use with your team on a regular basis more than this, “You have more than this moment requires.” Here are a few more of my favorites:  

“You were born for this.”

“If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

“You haven’t given up yet for a reason.”

“You are a blessing.”

Or this one from Rachel Hollis:


If you’re uncertain about your ability to lead your team away from discouragement, remember Abraham Lincoln. He continued on for years, with no proof or evidence, seemingly alone. The difference is your team doesn’t have to do it alone. You can lead them. Take this responsibility seriously by having empathy, maintaining hope, and using specific words to encourage them. Remember leaders who don’t encourage will eventually be surrounded by a discouraged team.

You have more than this moment requires!

Whom are you going to encourage today? How are you going to encourage your team this week?

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making victual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.