Go Ahead, Motivate Me
"Motivate me" must be one of the saddest requests a leader can receive. The request may not be so bluntly articulated, but the underlying assumption that the boss is there to motivate the staff seems to linger. "If only I had a better boss, I would be better". "If only this company got its act together, I could get mine together". "If only these other staff weren’t so hopeless, I would do better here – these people are holding me back". The search for salvation located in the responsibility of others is a big fail. Many religions offer salvation, but they all seem to require something from us to deserve that salvation. The world of mammon is no different.
Motivation, loyalty, accountability, effort, responsibility, engagement – probably every boss is expecting these from their staff. They are all outcomes from inputs. Inputs from both the boss side and the staff side. We know what level of staff motivation we want as leaders, but how do we achieve it?
Some favoured leader methodologies are yelling, threatening, instilling fear of loss, shaming and humiliating. Steve Jobs ticked the box on quite a few of these in his early days as a leader. He has become a halo encrusted, saint like figure nowadays because he took Apple away from the brink of self immolation and gave it a second life through his leadership. He was however a flawed leader who, at various times, resorted to these methods. His later success does not validate these bully boy tactics and favourites. "It was okay for Jobs, so it is acceptable for me to cascade the tough love down to my team". Maybe not!
You and I are not Steve Jobs, so let’s not get carried away with the parallel logic extension. He had many other fine attributes driving his success and remember he was successful in his field, not ours. We also need to look at the opportunity cost of what he could have achieved, had he been a better people leader. Getting massive compliance will not get you enough creative innovation. It is difficult to be fearless about coming up with new ideas and possibilities, if the boss scares you to death.
Jobs could have done more, much, much more, if he had played to his people’s strengths rather than abusing them about their weaknesses. He was able to get brilliance from the brilliant, which is probably not all that hard because they are brilliant already. The trick is getting brilliance out of the average person. That requires a lot more effort and skill. This is also where most of us live, because brilliant people are expensive and usually we can’t afford too many of them.
By contrast, Craig Bellamy is a Rugby League coach in Australia leading the Melbourne Storm team. He is famous for taking 2nd and 3rd level athletes and turning them into 1st class talent. He didn’t have the financial capacity to pay for a team full of stars, so he took people with potential and developed them into stars. This is a better model for us because very few of us can afford to employ a team of stars, but we can create stars.
Another challenge for strong leaders is they often work off the assumption that what made them successful is the model for everyone else to follow. Oh if it were only that easy! This is why you hear so much whining when bosses get together. They are dissatisfied with the staff because they can’t operate at the level they require. We forget sometimes that we too had to learn things when we were at their age and stage, that we now know and take for granted as common sense.
I hope this isn’t new information but, unfortunately, few people are ever going to be like you. You realise this as you go though life, when trying to deal with various others, but mysteriously, we tend to forget this fact when at work. There is a reason for those differences. Personality styles are often broken out into four boxes and by definition we tend to suit one box over the others. Hence three quarters of the population are automatically not on our wave-length. Hmm!
So how can we motivate the people who are not like us – probably the majority of staff. By the way, if your staff are all the same personality style as you, because that is how you have stacked the recruiting system, settle back for disaster ahead. Your flagrant cult of your personality type and lack of diversity will bubble up so much group think, you will assure yourselves you are correct all the way along, as you speed lemming-like, straight off the cliff.
Let’s assume that is not the case and you have a typically diverse work group with people with various preferred personality styles. Do yourself a big favour and start communicating with the team, as they prefer. This is beyond the Golden Rule, on toward the Platinum Rule of "treating everyone, as they wish to be treated". That means knowing what is self-motivating for each person and counter-intuitively, aligning that with the organisation’s goals, rather than the other way around. Think about what you have to do to achieve that powerful outcome.
Here is a hint. Communication skills, one of the most important soft skills, are a key to success here. What we say is important (technical expert content), but how we say it (expert communicator delivery) is more important. Many professionals are in complete denial about this. They firmly believe that their big brains and abundant knowledge will be sufficient. Not true!
We like to do business with people we like and trust. We might trust your professional skill, but if we don’t like you, we will only deal with you if we have no alternative. That would be a pretty rare case in these highly competitive times in crowded professional fields.
In Japan’s case, dentists and lawyers are a good examples. There are currently too many of both for the size of market demand, so the competition is fierce. In this situation, being able to communicate well with the client is critical. If they don’t feel you are on their wave length, they just head off to another practioner.
This will be the same for how Middle Management in Japan communicates with the younger generation. If the young don’t like it, they will leave. Given the constant demographic nightmare of fewer and fewer young University graduates, then they have many alternatives to working for you.
Be clear - we can’t motivate anyone but ourselves. However, as the leader, we can create an ecosystem where the team are encouraged to motivate themselves. Mirroring their preferred communication style when speaking (which is based on their personality style) leads to better understanding. Talking in terms of the other person’s interests, rather than our own, is more likely to be motivating for them.
The trick is you have to spend time with your team to know what their individual interests are. We loop back to the soft skills of good communication. The boss’s barked order generates docile compliance. The alignment of staff self-motivation with the direction of the organisation’s strategy, coupled with the right communications skills, get’s our people going the extra mile. That is a good goal - Platinum Rule turbo charged self-motivation.
Staff should motivate themselves and bosses should craft environments where staff motivation can be encouraged to flourish. This is a better distribution of responsibilities and has more opportunity for sustained success.
1.Build on people’s strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses
2.Remember you aren’t Steve Jobs and so don’t mimic his faults
3.Your success model only works for you, so don’t expect it of others
4.If you only hire people just like you prepare for disaster, you need diversity
5.Use the Platinum Rule – treat everyone the way they want to be treated
6.How you say it is more important than what you have to say
7.Create the environment for self-motivation – that is your job as the leader
8.Mirror the communication style of each of your people for the best communication outcomes