Motivating Your Team

By Rick Houcek

You know, a question I am frequently asked by my clients is: “How do I motivate my staff or my team, or one employee?”

Well, the answer is, you don’t.  So quit trying.

It is not the leader’s job to motivate staff.  If you have an underperforming employee who can’t seem to get up for the game, it is not a sign you’re a bad motivator.  It’s a sign you made a bad hire.  Everyone needs to be self-motivated.

When I give that answer, it’s always shocking.

So the next thing I hear is:  “But wait a minute, as the leader I’m ultimately responsible for operating results, so if I shouldn’t motivate my staff, what can I do regarding motivation of the troops?”

Well, in fact, you do have important motivational responsibilities.

Five, to be precise.  And here they are.

The 5 primary duties of a leader that you must embrace around motivation are:

  1. Hire only self-motivated people. Think the few, the proud, the Marines.  You know, they don’t want everybody and neither should you.  This one thing done well will make you sleep a whole lot easier at night, and no doubt it will require you to re-examine and change how you recruit and how you interview.  You need to find out upfront before you hire whether a candidate’s habit pattern is to take initiative and move… or wait for instructions and kill time.
  2. Create an environment where winners can succeed and be recognized. Set a high bar and create reward systems that are generous.  Winners respond to them.  Don’t be guilty of spending an inordinate amount of time on your losers.  They typically won’t respond to much no matter what you do.  I do not buy the rationale that rewards must be equally distributed to all.  That’s baloney.  People are equal in birth, but very different in adult performance and behavior.  Bringing everyone down to the lowest common denominator is no way to excel in business.  Abraham Lincoln said it the best, “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.”
  3. Deal with those who are not self-motivated. When non-performers are not dealt with, not talked to, not coached for improvement, and not terminated when necessary, there is no worse message you can send to your high-achieving eagles.  And they are watching.  Their conclusion is:  “Well, if that kind of behavior and performance is going to be tolerated around here, how can I win?  Why should I stay?”
  4. Don’t de-motivate. This is where leaders stub their toes and often don’t even realize it.  The best way to attack this, I’ve found, is, don’t guess.  Ask your people point blank, “What are the most de-motivating behaviors that you’ve seen in leaders?  What are most de-motivating behaviors you’ve seen in me?”  Yes, this takes courage for them to answer, but you just need a couple people with guts to come forward, and you’ll get valuable insights you would not have gotten otherwise.  Heed their words.  And thank them for their courage.
  5. Light your own fire every day. After all, you are the chief example setter.  An off day by you has a cascading negative impact that ripples – often getting amplified – throughout the entire company.  One CEO client of mine told me metaphorically, he said:  “If I have a cold, my people have pneumonia.”  He’s right, and you can’t afford that.  So, no moping around.  Do whatever you must do to be emotionally present, to be mentally alert, and highly spirited.  Wear a game face if you must.  It doesn’t mean you can’t be human, but you must realize that leaders are the most watched, most listened to, most understood, and most misunderstood people in any organization.

Now, if you’ll do all 5 of those, you are not being a motivator.

And yet you’ll be a very effective leader.


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