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. 

Closing

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.

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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.

3 Unconventional Ways to Motivate Employees When You’re the Boss

Motivation Seminar

Your employees are the lifeblood of your business. Their engagement, motivation, and effort help drive your results, and quite often, they are the potential future leaders of your company.

However, even when you provide meaningful work opportunities, there is no denying that the day to day grind can wear down on you and your team. Burnout is now recognized as an official medical diagnosis by the World Health Organization, and it can rapidly deplete your team’s productivity.

In other situations, your team may need some extra motivation for taking on a daunting challenge. As Zig Ziglar famously said:

“People often say motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing — that’s why I recommend it daily.”

As a leader, you have the responsibility to energize your team and help them get 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. Tap into the power of 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 the power of them 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,” that 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 he moved 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.

2. Know what motivates them and lean into it.

Since you lead a team at work, there is a good chance; not everyone is motivated by the same things. For some, all it takes is the almighty dollar, and for others, it could be public praise and recognition.

The best leaders know why their people get out of bed in the morning and continuously look to leverage those personal motivations to reach higher levels of performance.

If you are going to motivate your entire team daily, it’s critical you have a clear goal. But not just any goal; one that has a clear objective + completion date + carrot. The most important part here is the carrot because the carrot is something your teammates will benefit from once the goal is achieved.

3. Allow for on-the-job exercising.

Sometimes, your employees just need to have fun. Giving your team a way to blow off their stress can help them feel re-energized and better equipped for the challenges coming their way. Exercise is a phenomenal way to do this.

For example, I received an unusual tip from Cody Neer, founder of eCommerce Brand Academy, during a recent conversation about his team of 50 employees.

His company relies extensively on remote teams, but this can limit communication. To address this, he does a live Zoom video exercise challenge with his team after lunch. Together, they’ll do ab planks (or something similar) to get blood flowing and have a laugh. This keeps everyone engaged and connected while eliminating the productivity lull that often occurs after lunch.

While strange, studies have proven this might not be a bad idea– as the Wellness Council of America notes, excess stress increases absenteeism and turnover, while also hurting workers’ productivity and overall health. Giving your team unique opportunities to relieve that stress will help mitigate these common issues while also getting those activity trackers on their Apple watches moving a positive direction. 

Energizing and motivating your team isn’t something that consistently happens in strategy meetings or one on one performance evaluations. It happens in the small things you do each week to help foster a positive, forward-thinking culture. 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.

What’s Your Leadership Style? Join over 40k leaders and discover how well you are leveraging love and discipline as a leader and find out your current leadership style for free.

Preorder the Book: Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success is being published by McGraw-Hill and is due out on November 15th. Preorder today and receive over $200 in gifts including the first two chapters immediately, Acts of Accountability Online Course, and a live webinar taught by John.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company which exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the 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.

How Great Leaders Motivate Others [Video]

Motivating others isn’t easy.  Particularly because most people will only stretch themselves to the point in which they are uncomfortable.   It’s a leaders job to determine what motivates members of their team and align to those needs in order to motivate them.  Learn how you can be a better motivator from our short Microlearning video.

Getting Leadership Ready. LearnLoft’s out of the box training approach to helping organizations develop their young professionals to be better and more proactive leaders. Find out more here.