Can leaders motivate others? Is the leader responsible for the drive, energy, engagement, consistent attitude and innovative outlook of the their team? Hollywood says we are. Rousing soapbox oratory, stirring speeches in the locker room at half time, passionate battlefield calls for sacrifice are legendary scenes from the movies. What about at work, rather than game-day half time?
Leaders energetically telling others "be motivated, be motivated" doesn’t work. Yelling it progressively louder doesn’t work either! The leader can create a work environment where self-motivation can flourish – maybe. Why maybe? Most leaders seem to have had a charisma bypass. They were promoted because of their individual and often idiosyncratic technical expertise. They are not great communicators, not great with people - simply not inspirational at all.
Lee Iacocca is well quoted saying, "Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can’t be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next person down the line and get them to inspire their people". Here lies the problem. Not only have leaders got to be able to inspire their direct reports, they also have to be able to teach these same direct reports how to pass it on to their teams. Role model and teacher-by-example elements are combined here. Most leaders can’t manage one, let alone both.
To be fair, as leaders we don’t have to be saints or perfect, but there are 7 things we should stop doing because they are potentially de-motivating the team. Imagine, by simply being a bit more self-aware, we can help lift motivation!
Be honest now - check that this isn’t you!
1. Possess poor listening skills
How long do we usually keep trying to talk to people who don’t want to listen? Once! If that is you, then we keep our best thoughts, ideas, innovations and insights to ourselves, because we know we are wasting our breath. If you happen to notice one day, that you are the source of all the ideas, that should be a warning signal. The best ideas often come from those closest to the action and by definition, in your more senior role, that is no longer you.
2. Perpetrate the Killer 3Cs – criticizing, condemning and complaining
Many of us have seen demanding leaders explode with rage and disappointment, publically tongue lash the troops and speak ill of individuals to whoever happens to be around. This behavior guarantees fostering no risk taking, slow decision making and sycophants. Maybe you are not that toxic, but putting people down makes it difficult to lift the results, so study how to best deal with your people’s mistakes. Those looking on may be silent but they are thinking "but for the grace of God, there go I" and worry that anytime soon they could be next.
3. Promoting the black arts of cynicism and sarcasm
The sarcastic comments of the leader fillets team motivation clumsily and remorselessly. The cynicism of the corner office "prophet of doom" eventually kills all hopes for the future. You lead certified experts in "boss watching"; they take their lead from you. Want positive outcomes – be positive in verbal and body language, as well as action!
4. Lack of interaction
Every busy boss is balancing the tradeoff of their own concentrated personal production hours, with spending more time with the team. The question remains though, in a busy life, how do we build common understanding, share ideas, experiences and views. These activities require time. The introverted boss or the selfish "they died taking the hill but I got my promotion" leader, fails to garner any real engagement. Don’t go that route - communicate, involve, share – these work wonders for team spirit.
5. Playing favorites
Childhood memories of the bitter taste of hopes and aspirations delayed or destroyed by favoritism, pop up in the work place whenever the boss is clearly favoring the few. You may be blissfully and innocently unaware you are even doing this. Remember, your job is to build people and manage processes. If you want to increase motivation, that means build all the people, not just your best buddies.
6. Showing a lack of common courtesy
You are a super busy boss. Are you barking out commands like a pirate captain, with no thought to say "please" when requesting action or adding a "thank you" when it is completed. Do you come to work full of worries, with a cartoon rain cloud above your head - black and ominous? Is the pressure making your mood grim and subject to major fluctuations during the day. It is hard to feel motivated working for Grumpy, so just double check you are showing sufficient respect for the team.
7. Using secrets as a power play
Everyone in the team likes to know what is going on, because we definitely don’t like surprises at work. Obviously keeping secrets, holding closed-door meetings and announcing sudden changes mangles the team commitment. Managers themselves are often greedy to access the information trickle, dripping down from above, but are miserly in passing it on. How about you?
We have just covered what we should not be doing, but taking a positive slant, what should we be doing instead?
Abraham Maslow’s 1954 book "Motivation and Personality" introduced the now famous "Hierarchy of Needs". He theorized that each individual is motivated by a progression of needs, represented in a pyramid, with the most basic needs at the bottom and the highest order of needs at the top. He believed motivation is driven by the individual satisfying each level of need, in a progressive sequence from bottom to top. He asserted that people are generally motivated to move to the next level when the more basic order of need is satisfied.
We start our careers focusing on getting some money together to live independently, make the credit card payments etc. As we progress in our careers we gradually get more focused on security, being a contributing member of the team and earning the respect of others. Eventually, we focus on aspects of work that are personally fulfilling, that make a significant contribution and that maximize our potential.
In Maslow’s theory, the boss must create a motivational environment that meets the needs of team members at each level of the hierarchy, in order to inspire them to strive to the next level. To do this the boss has to know their people, to be sensitive to where they are in their current career stage and aspirations. The boss needs to communicate hope and the way forward together, so the employee can get through to the next stage.
As leaders, how well do we know the hopes, fears, dreams and situations of our team? In the old model, the personal lives of the team members was thought to be an off limits area for bosses. Not today. The team want to know the boss is in their corner, actively working to help them further their careers. The younger the generation the more vivid this idea becomes. Of course, the boss can’t do it for us, but the boss can create the environment where we can do it ourselves. To get people motivated, get busy building that supportive environment.
In 1959 Fredrick Herzberg published "The Motivation to Work" where he theorized that workers face two basic sets of factors in their jobs: maintenance factors and motivating factors. He related the level of job satisfaction to the presence or absence of motivating factors.
Maintenance factors included things like relationships with team members, work conditions, salary, status and security. This is an interesting viewpoint, because many of us today may believe that salary is a highly motivating, rather than maintaining factor for our team.
Perhaps for the one percent on huge salaries, this is probably quite true, but for the majority of employees this is not the case. Unless we want to start paying everyone huge numbers, we need to look for other areas to engage them.
Herzberg found that motivational factors referred to achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement and personal growth. Every one of these rely on the communication skills of the boss to create that environment where people feel appreciated, relevant, appreciated and inspired to try even harder.
Working in big organizations it is hard to feel that your role has any meaning. This is where the boss connects the dots for you and demonstrates how important you are to the company. Your ideas are sought, your input valued, your work noted, recognized and praised.
Praise is one of the nascent arts of leadership today. There is plenty of praise in stock because so few bosses draw down on it. It is a bit like not telling your partner that you love them. You assume they know that, so why do you have to state it? Recognizing employees gets the same treatment – somehow they know you appreciate them, even though you never bring it up. Maybe not!
We have to re-examine some of our basic assumptions. In 2012/13 global research on engagement was duplicated in Japan and of those employees who stated they were "very satisfied" with their boss, less than half said they felt "engaged". Most bosses would be relieved to have staff say they were "very satisfied" with them and would therefore expect that they would also be highly engaged. The research results showed that we cannot be so optimistic! This underlines the need for the leaders to look for the points of motivation in their team, work hard on those and to clearly isolate out and understand what are purely maintenance factors.
In the 1960 book "The Human Side of Enterprise", Douglas McGregor introduced Theory X and Theory Y management. Theory X is top down management, authoritative in nature and McGregor found it produced poor results.
Theory X leaders see their people as shirking work, untrustworthy, avoiding responsibility, etc. They must be threatened with punishment to meet objectives, given directions and told what to do and how to do it. This is the boss ignoring the nine things done well and zeroing in on the one thing done incorrectly. The micro-manager, the "bad finder", the "have to watch em like a hawk" boss. By the way, do you recognize anyone here – is this you?
Theory Y management by contrast creates a participative, team oriented environment where management frees individuals to produce better performance, while allowing them to grow and develop their skills. Leaders believe workers are capable of controlling and directing themselves, are more motivated by rewards than punishment, enjoy responsibility and have capacity for creativity and ingenuity. This type of boss is open to ideas from the team, prepared to delegate responsibility and someone trying to both build people and manage processes. They are a "good finder". If we surveyed your team about you, would the results show up Ys or Xs?
Predating Herzberg and McGregor, Dale Carnegie introduced his famous 30 Principles of successful human relations, published in his global best seller "How To Win Friends and Influence People" in 1936. Carnegie was not an academic but he was a very practical man. His findings were based on 24 years of observation and experiment in his "real world" laboratory.
His conclusion was that the best way to influence the behavior or motivation of others, is by adjusting your own behavior. The leader takes 100% of the responsibility for making the relationship as productive as possible by fostering a truly motivational environment. He did not say the leader was responsible for the followers’ actions, but was responsible for the work environment and the controlling their own attitude.
Dale Carnegie’s 30 principles focused on providing practical guidance on achieving better people skills, including common sense (but not common practice) advice such as:
Give honest, sincere appreciation
Arouse in the other person an eager want
Become genuinely interested in other people
Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view
Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person
Ask questions instead of giving direct orders
This selection from the 30 Principles underline the leader’s role in focusing not on what they want, but understanding what their team members want.
Sales guru Zig Ziglar had a great saying, "If you can help enough people get what they want in this life, you can get what you want". It is the same idea for the boss. Don’t focus on what you want, focus on what your people want. Maslow, Herzberg, McGregor and Carnegie have been telling us this for a long time - this is how to get motivation going in the team.
We may be slow learners but now is the time for us to finally get it! Forget Hollywood! Go with the research and build the environment most favorable to creating high levels of motivation in your team.