How Leaders Can Motivate Employees
Your leaders cannot change people.
To some of your leadership team, this truth may come as a surprise. They may feel that if they just try hard enough, they can learn how to motivate employees to do what is best for the team.
But it just isn’t true.
The truth is that a lot of conflict in the workplace comes from leaders trying to get people to act—then becoming frustrated when they don’t.
Teams can develop resentment and bitterness as managers and other employees step up to fill in for employees who are unmotivated to get the job done.
Instead of dealing with the issues of an unmotivated employee, teams often go silent and work around the problem person, creating artificial harmony—until it blows up into a full-blown conflict and good employees leave.
Your leaders can create an environment where motivation is both valued and rewarded.
By following a few key steps for motivating employees, your managers can achieve their goals and help the company thrive.
Pass along these four steps to leaders in your organization who are trying to overcome the challenge of unmotivated employees—and the conflict that follows:
1. Start with Motivated People
The best way for leaders to create a culture of motivation is to start with as many motivated people as they can. The Law of Magnetism states, “Who you are is who you attract.”
If team leaders want people to be motivated, they must know how to motivate themselves. People do what people see. They have to live it before they expect it from anyone else.
Once they are motivated to succeed, they must hire motivated people. That sounds obvious, but many leaders leave this trait out of the equation when looking for team members. Many focus too much on just talent or skill. If you know how to motivate employees, you’ll attract motivated people.
Even leaders who recognize the importance of attitude sometimes miss motivation. And then they wonder why their people aren’t performing at a higher level.
How can they identify motivated people? They usually have several of the following traits:
- They exhibit a positive attitude.
- They can articulate specific goals for their life.
- They are initiators.
- They have a proven track record of success
Your leaders can look for these traits when hiring new team members.
2. Understand the Connection between Relationships and Motivation
People are motivated by relationships with leaders who connect with them and treat them like human beings.
If your managers are naturally wired to connect with people, this may sound painfully obvious to them. Yet many leaders miss it, especially in tech or data-driven industries.
Leaders who put their teams down will struggle to connect with the team. For example, a leader who we once worked with referred to all the people on his team as “ding-a-lings.” He constantly said things like “I told the ding-a-lings what to do, but of course they didn’t do it” and “I’ve got to go meet with the ding-a-lings.”
It was clear he believed everyone was beneath him. His contempt for people was apparent to everyone who worked for him. It was no surprise that his organization was struggling to succeed and full of conflict.
Few things are more demotivating for employees than working for someone who disrespects them.
3. Give Each Person a Reputation to Uphold
People often go farther than they think they can go when someone else thinks they can.
One way for your leaders to show employees they believe in them and in the possibility of success for their future is to give them a reputation to uphold.
Leaders can walk through this simple exercise: Ask what’s special, unique, and wonderful about each person on the team. All people have talents, skills, and positive traits that make them valuable to the team.
When your leaders figure out what those are, they can share them with others. The more leaders validate people for the good things they do—or could do—the more those people will want to do them.
Not only does this motivate them to perform in their strength areas, it also encourages an environment where people say positive things about one another.
4. Reward What You Want Done
It’s called Grandma’s Law: If you eat your vegetables, you can have dessert. It’s amazing how well this law works with kids—and employees.
Why? Because most people will work for a reward they desire. If your managers want to create an environment where people are motivated, they should give them reasons to get things done.
A salesman once sat looking through the window of a hotel restaurant at a blinding snowstorm. As he considered whether to stay or go, he asked his waiter, “Do you think the roads will be clear enough in the morning to travel?”
“That depends.” The waiter replied. “Are you on salary or commission?”
Leaders should consider what positive rewards they have in place for employees—or are they simply assuming employees will do what is best for the company even when there is no reward?
Rewards are motivating. Rules, consequences, and punishment don’t do anything to get people going. They merely keep people from doing their worst.
If your team leaders want people’s best, they should give them incentives to perform.
By taking these steps, your leaders can create an environment where motivated employees have positive relationships at work with minimal conflict.
That’s a winning culture that attracts and keeps motivated workers.
- Maxwell, John C. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007.
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