How can you motivate others? You can’t!

If you are a manager, a team lead or a project manager who is new to the role you are probably asking yourself this simple question: “How can I motivate my team?” I don’t want to disappoint or discourage you, but the answer is also very simple: “You can’t!” Years of building and managing teams showed me that there is no way you can externally motivated someone who is internally not motivated and likes to feel miserable or helpless. Stephen R. Covey once said “Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.” In my eyes, being motivated is a state of mind. It is a feeling that drives us to accomplish things, to do, to act, to reach something specific. Every coach would tell you that we are all responsible for our own feelings and no one else can change them.

So what can you do? In fact there are quite few things you can do to allow people to be motivated. You will not motivate them, but you will create circumstances that will lead to internal motivation of the team. Daniel H. Pink explains in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” that motivation in modern economy where you are required to use creative thinking has three components: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Autonomy is a state when you have the freedom to do what you want and how you want it to be done. Mastery is a mindset that keeps you learning and getting better at what you do. Purpose sets context for the previous two and keeps you engaged and fulfilled by doing something larger than you. These are all intrinsic motivators that must be found by each individual himself. The one thing you can do is to provide environment where it is possible.

Understand your team

  • What are the values of each individual on your team?
  • What are the things that matter to them?
  • What personal goals do they have?
  • What makes them tick?
  • What are they passionate about?
  • What makes them come to the office every day?
  • What makes them laugh?
  • What makes them cry?

Provide motivating environment

  • Provide meaningful job – everyone should work on something that makes sense. In no circumstances should a member of your team do something just for the sake of keeping him busy
  • Provide challenges – everyone should have a work that is always one step above what he can comfortably achieve, that way he learns and grows
  • Provide responsibilities – trust your team and give them responsibilities, autonomy, let them decide on how to get things done – empower
  • Provide constructive feedback – that is the way we learn. Make sure you create environment where people want to receive and provide feedback and know how to do it
  • Provide information and clear goals – keep the team informed about the big picture and how their work contributes to the common goal

Use motivating approach

  • Guide – guide your team through difficult times. They must know that when things go wrong you are there to help and stand beside them and help overcome the obstacle.
  • Inspire – you should bring energy and inspiration. When people see you and talk to you they should leave energized and with feeling they learned something.
  • Show trust – this is critical. Forget the “trust must be earned” paradigm. You need to trust your team and show that trust. Only then will the team reciprocate and trust you.
  • Listen – really listen, not just to the words but to the meaning behind them. Make sure you not just listen but you show that you are listening and then take actions.
  • Be a role model – lead by example might be a cliché, but a good one. People won’t be motivated in environment where the leader doesn’t walk his talk
  • Use positive vocabulary – phrases like “Maybe”, “It’s difficult”, “It won’t work”, “I guess” don’t inspire much confidence and thwart enthusiasm and drive. Use responses like “Excellent”, “Let’s do it”, “We make it work”.
  • Use humor – nothing works better to eliminate stress than use of humor. A simple humorous statement can defuse an argument, relieve stress and get you closer to your team. Just make sure you are not seen as a clown.
  • Recognize routine jobs & reward outstanding work – I’m sure you reward big achievements, but what about the small ones? Every big milestone consists of couple of simple tasks that deserves some sort of recognition too. You should reward people for outstanding achievements and not to forget all the other team members who did well on the routine jobs and helped the success in less visible ways.

Everyone is different and your ability to keep the team together and keep them motivated is really important for the success of the project or the company. The fact that the road to motivated team members is not a direct one and there is now simple rule how to achieve it is what makes your job interesting. Especially when you are new to the role of a leader take a solace in the fact that we all do mistakes and it will take you couple of year or decades of experimenting until you are able to say that you’ve seen everything and know how to motivate most types of people… and even then you will be wrong.

Twitter type summary: “You cannot force people to be motivated, but you can create environment where they get a chance to motivate themselves.”

What are your thoughts? Are you motivated? Is your team motivated? How did you achieve it? And if you didn’t achieve it, why not?

5 thoughts on “How can you motivate others? You can’t!

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