What Can Leaders Learn From Abraham Maslow?

We live in a world where unemployment rates are at its highest (thinking of Europe) and number of people are having troubles finding work. And then there are those of us who have a good job and wake up every morning to yet another day in the office. One would say that we should be happy but very often I hear people complaining that there is a thing or two they don’t like and some of the statistics I read make me wonder about what we expect from a job. For example this survey by Jobvite discovered that 69% of American employees are actively seeking or are open to new job opportunities. Why is that? And if you are a leader how do you fight the desire of your team to look elsewhere? To understand it we need to answer one basic question: Why do we work?

To survive

70 years ago Abraham Maslow (American psychologist) came up with a famous Maslow’s pyramid of human needs. It was an attempt to list the basic human needs and how they evolve as one gets the lower level satisfied. Even though it rather simplifies his theories and many, including Geert Hofstede, pointed out that it can vary across cultures and there is no need to satisfy lower level to get to the next one, it is a good guideline for answering our question. The very basic reason for people to seek a job is to be able to survive (the first two levels of Maslow’s pyramid related to psychological and safety needs). We all need to eat, we all need a place to rest, and we all want to be able to provide for our families. And that means money.

What does this mean for you as a leader? You need to ensure that you pay your team fairly. That doesn’t necessarily mean paying the top salary. It just means that you should pay more or less what their value for the company is. That is rather impossible to measure so a good substitute is to pay people what their value on the job market is. If you pay significantly less, they will feel like you don’t treat them fairly and you are trying to rob them. If you overpay them there is a danger that you will create a culture of entitlement, where your employees will feel they are above everyone else and will start acting like divas. Chances are they will stick with you only because of money and not because they love the work. It will negatively impact their dedication and performance and sooner or later someone desperate comes and will be willing to overpay them even more and they will jump the ship.

To belong and be appreciated

Once we satisfy our basic needs we start looking for more. Everyone wants to be appreciated (the next two levels of Maslow’s pyramid related to belonging and esteem). We may earn good income but if the environment is toxic, and there is no culture of being appreciated by others, we will still feel down.

You as a leader can deal with this easily. Always be on the floor with your team. Always provide feedback and encouragement. Recognize everyone for the work they are doing, praise, smile, and give credit where credit is due.

Hand in hand with this goes our desire to be treated like adults. Most of us crave opportunity to show we can do the job, we want to be taken seriously and we want to be able to contribute to the best of our abilities. Too many companies today still treat their employees like small children. Too many managers are afraid to give more responsibility to the team members, to trust them, to empower them. As a result employees feel powerless and not appreciated for what they can do.

To be useful

Even the most introverted of us live in some community and care about others. Once you have your needs covered you start thinking about others. You want to feel useful, you want to help others who are less fortunate and by doing it you will feel good about yourself.

What does it mean for a leader who wants to retain its people? It is all about team. Make sure that people care about the rest of the team and they genuinely try to help. Team work is not a competition about who gets promoted first. It is about people doing what they love, and having the mindset to build something together. You should always encourage open communication, team work, sharing credit between team members, and appreciate and reward success of the team.

To achieve

This may go with the top of Maslow’s pyramid where he talks about self-actualization. It may differ between cultures but the common underlying principle is “purpose”. Once we get to the top of the pyramid we need to have higher purpose in our life. Call it self-actualization, self-fulfillment or just going beyond your limits. It means we want to be more than we are. We want to step out of the confines of our current limited bodies and achieve something bigger than life.

This one is the most tricky but also the one that can glue the employee to the company for a really long time if you are successful. You need to provide a vision that the employee can identify with. This is the reason why it is so important to have company’s vision and mission. And it needs to be something that resonates with people on this highest level: purpose in life. If the vision of your company is to earn ten millions dollars this year it will not work. If the vision is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” (Google), “to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat” (McDonald’s), or “to connect people with their world, everywhere they live and work, and do it better than anyone else” (AT&T) it is something people can identify with and live for. By doing this you are giving them a deep sense of purpose. This is why so many people work in non-profit and humanitarian organizations. The pay may not be great but the sense of purpose is what makes the work so satisfactory.

So what does all this mean for you as a leader? Never focus just on one particular need. If you want to build strong organization that will be able to attract and retain the best people you need to address all the levels of the Maslow’s pyramid regardless if you believe in it or not.


Why do you work? What would the headhunter offer you to jump the ship? What would have to change in your workplace so you would stay?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Why Discussion About Millennials Is Irrelevant

Every now and then you can hear discussion about how the “new” generation is different. Ever heard of the Millennials? People born at the end of the 20th century who want everything now, who are smart, technology savvy, impatient, want to live at their terms, are creative, lazy, ambitious, with feeling of entitlement, etc. Depends on who you listen too they are being portrait either as the future of the world better than any previous generation or as the doom of humanity that will never achieve anything. So what does this all means for you as a leader? Well, nothing…

So many Generations

Let us have a quick glimpse into our past and agree on what all these generations actually are:

There might be some disagreements on some of the dates but more or less this is what we are talking about when we discuss “generations”. That’s it, at least in the Western civilization.

Generations versus Culture

Generation Y or Millennials are a construct of Western civilization (mostly the US and the UK) and in Asia or Africa you would find completely different way how to classify the generations. These are terms to describe not so much people but rather different eras of our history. Even within Europe one could find that generations may have different meaning across countries and the dates might be a bit of. For example, since I’m coming from the Czech Republic I would argue that the significant event that splits the generations in the Czech context is the Velvet Revolution in 1989 rather than anything else.

Generations versus Age

So are the Millennials really so different in their ambitions, abilities or dreams than any other person over the history of humankind? I consider myself being born to Generation X and when I was in my early twenties I exhibited the same traits we are today seeing in Millennials. Young people simply act in a certain way regardless of a century.

The one thing that has changed over the last twenty years (in some parts of the world) is our use of technology and incredible amount of information we have to deal with on daily basis. The world is getting faster and faster. This sort of environment impacts mostly our willingness to wait. We as a society (not just the Millennials) want more and want it faster than the previous generations. But the dreams were always there, we just have them bigger today since we have more information about the world around us.

So how do you motivate the young people?

I would argue you motivate young people the same way you motivate anyone else. If you are a manager building a new team or a leader who finds herself in the charge of a big organization comprised of various generations you need to follow couple of basic rules.

  1. Start with business objectives – What is your business model? Who are your customers? At what speed your business runs and how often does it change direction? Answers to these questions give you a framework for everything else starting with what people you need to hire, how you manage them, compensate them, and what sort of culture you create.
  2. Build culture that supports the business needs – What internal culture will support your business? What are the values your employees need to live and breathe to make the company successful? How do you want to be seen by all the stakeholders (customers, partners, employees, potential employees, public)? Identifying the core values of the business and subsequently the culture that would support it is a key to long-term success. Everyone who joins the team needs to understand why the organization exists, needs to understand what you as a leader stand for, what the core values of the team are and how they are being exhibited on daily basis by every single member of the organization.
  3. Hire to fit the culture – Get the people who have the skills and exhibit the traits of the culture you are trying to build. Forget about what generation they are from, forget about they age, gender, religion, even education and focus on what skills they have and what their attitudes and core values are. You may have, in fact, you want to have a variety in the team. You want people with different educational and cultural background, with different experiences that can enrich each other and add something unique to the organization. The only thing you need to watch for is the same core values and dreams that are aligned with the core values of the organization.

If you do this you will automatically ignore any differences in the generations, ages, genders, religions, and will not discriminate against any. The only thing that matters if the person has the right skills and attitudes to fit what you need. This view dramatically simplifies the way how you hire and later on manage your employees. It puts aside any misconceptions or biases and leads to truly motivating environment where everyone feels welcomed regardless whether he is a baby boomer, Gen X or Millennial. So just keep it simple and don’t overthink “how you will manage the Millennials”.

And if you really want to have a discussion on how to motivate Millennials here are some tips

  • Provide a vision, inspire them – we all want to dream and know why we are doing the stuff we are asked to do
  • Treat them with respect and show that you care – everyone wants to feel respected and valued. Regardless of generation or culture keep in mind the basic human needs
  • Be fair – being transparent, unbiased and fair in the sense of treating everyone the same way will go a long way
  • Acknowledge their contribution – we all want to be recognized for our achievements so learn to celebrate even small wins with the team
  • Provide feedback and mentoring – most of us want to learn and grow. That is what we do since birth and having around us people who enable the continuous growth is always appreciated
  • Let them grow and make mistakes – the best way to truly learn is to make mistakes so make sure you build environment where mistakes are allowed though shouldn’t be repeated
  • Make sure their work has meaning – most of us want to work on something bigger than us, we want to leave a legacy and thus giving your team work that brings value to your customers or humanity itself is a key

The conclusion?

You motivate the Millennials exactly the same way you would motivate most of the other generations. The difference is the intensity and speed required. Being patient comes with life experience and it is no surprise that a smart, talented individual fresh out of university and full of energy has no patience to just sit and wait for something to happen.


How do you manage Millennials? In fact, how do you manage different generations? Do you feel it is good to have a team composed of more than one generation? How do you account for different cultures in global teams?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Your Heart Is Not In It Anymore

You have a great job, excellent team around you, you do what you love, but still something feels wrong. You cannot really pinpoint what exactly it is. You start questioning whether the things you do make sense, whether you are really using all what you’ve got and you don’t feel as enthusiastic about stuff as in the past. I found myself recently exactly in that situation and when talking with one person I respect, she said “Tomas, I feel your heart is not in it anymore.”

This made me pause. I love my job. I’m proud on what I have built and I enjoy immensely working with the great team around me. But I realized that she is right. Something inside me that was driving me in the past somehow disappeared and I felt that to get it back I need to do something. To do something new and exciting that will allow me to light the fire within me again. It also made me think about what you could do to make sure your team doesn’t feel the same way.

How you keep your top talent engaged?

  1. Keep them learning – most of us like learning. It started when we were born and made our first small steps and it continuous throughout our lives. Some of us are really hungry for knowledge and some of us just like from time to time to realize that we progressed a bit and our knowledge of the world is a bit better than it was a year ago. Make sure you supply the right amount of learning opportunity to each of your team members
  2. Keep them proud – create an environment where people are really proud on what they do. When your team talks about the company and what they are doing even outside of work. When they boast to their family and friends about the work environment, the project and the team spirit then it will create a feedback loop as their friends and family will keep them reminding how lucky they are to have such a great job
  3. Keep them informed – being open and transparent about what is happening in the company, on the market, and in the team works like a marvel on most of us. We like to feel that we know what is happening in the world around us and feel hopeless and dissatisfied when we are surprised and feeling out of control
  4. Keep them appreciated – make sure people on your team know how good job they are doing. Chances are that you have a great team, you need them, they deliver lots of value to the company but you keep forgetting to let them know that you know. The important thing is to recognize and appreciate even the day to day achievements. Don’t wait for a big thank you once a year when the project ends and you distribute bonuses
  5. Let them own stuff – building a sense of ownership is one of the easiest way how to keep your team together. The really good people on your team care deeply about what they do, about the project, the team, the company and if they feel directly responsible it will be more difficult for them to walk away and it will keep them engaged.
  6. Move them around – we all get eventually tired if we do the same thing over and over again regardless how much we initially loved it. To get some change into our lives is good even for those who prefer a stable environment. Do you have a guy on the project for five years? Even if he says he likes what he is doing at some point his inner fire burns out and it will be too late to save him.

How do you reignite the fire?

  1. Consider their value – how much value they bring and could bring to the team, to the project and to the company? Consider not just what they do today but also what potential they have for the future. The biggest loss for the company is usually not today’s top performer but the future top performer. These are also the people who often leave the company without anyone shedding a tear and because of their potential they will have a great success somewhere else. And if the amount of effort it would take to reignite the fire in the employee is bigger than the value they bring and could bring then it might be easier to let them find their spark somewhere else
  2. Show you care – how? Talk to them. Being willing to spend time with your team and talk not just about work but to talk to them as to other human beings goes a long way. If you show respect and understanding people will get more excited to show up the next morning in the office as they will feel important and not just a small anonymous clog in a big machine. They will feel that you really care and don’t look at them just as a number in an excel spreadsheet
  3. Find out what makes them tick – each of us is different and so each of us gets excited by different things. For someone it is a learning opportunity, for someone else career growth, being surrounded by great team, relaxed environment, being useful, doing something that matters, or a getting a nice paycheck. Make sure you find out what is really important for each individual on your team and then make sure you satisfy that need
  4. Show how they can contribute – make sure that they not only understand you care but also you show them all the options and opportunities they have with you as an employer. There are very few companies where things would be status quo forever. In most companies whether they are growing or slowly dying there are new opportunities popping up all the time so it is just a question of recognizing them and sending them to the right people
  5. Take risks – offer them something significantly different, at least for a little while. Do you have a software developer who just doesn’t feel so enthusiastic about his work? Would moving him to another project solve the problem? And if not what about offering him a training and let him do technical support for half a year? Maybe it will give him a chance to look at things from different perspective and reignite the fire within and desire to come back to coding. Or maybe he will find a new calling in serving the customers. Regardless of the outcome you were able to keep someone valuable in the company.
  6. Be fast – act really fast. You need to be able to move within weeks. If you have someone on the team who is visibly checked out and he is your former top guy you need talk to him to explore other opportunity and you need to act to keep his focus on your company and get him excited again. And if someone tells you that it is not possible to let this guy change project in the next half a year until it gets released then he is wrong. The employee can come tomorrow with a notice that he is leaving the company so trying to act like nothing is happening is wasted opportunity.

And what did at the end reignite the fire in me? A small handwritten thank you note from a person with great potential saying that a small gesture I did opened doors to her that she never knew even existed. With this note, and considering my life values, came a realization that when you do what you love, with great people you trust around you, and you build something great for others to use, you live a pretty damn good life. And this realization fills you with energy and fire like nothing else.

Twitter type summary: “The top performers have the fire within that keeps fueling their desire to get the job done. Make sure it keeps on burning.”

How do you keep the fire burning? How do you ensure your team really cares and keeps engaged?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Now, how may I help you?

How do we learn? How do we grow and become better? How do we learn that we did something wrong? By getting good and helpful feedback. When you are in leadership position you are expected to provide that feedback to your team. How do you do it? How do you give the right feedback in the right way? It all depends on what outcome you desire. There are many ways how to provide feedback but you can divide them into two categories based on what you want to achieve: feedback to motivate further development and feedback to correct undesirable behavior.

Feedback is not food

Most leaders like to practice so called sandwich feedback. In fact, it is the way how most of the leadership training courses would teach you to provide feedback. You start with something positive to build rapport and for a person to start listening, then you say what needs to improve and then finish again on positive side so the person feels good. You need to be very careful with this type of feedback. It may work in the developmental settings when you want also to motivate but it will not work when there is a real issue to be corrected. The danger of sandwich feedback is that by obscuring the corrective message between two positive ones you may hide it too much and the recipient will just not get it.

“Hi John, what a beautiful watch you wear today and isn’t the weather just great? Look I just saw your report and I think you could use a bit more organization and summarize the facts a bit better. But I really appreciate the effort you put into it and the formatting and colors you used are great. Just continue the great job.”

… ehm, is this the way to provide useful feedback? If you were John, would you know what to improve? In fact, would you feel you need to improve anything at all?

Developmental feedback

There are situations when you want to provide feedback to someone to develop his skills. His attitude is good, he is generally motivated to do the job but lacks on necessary skills. The intention is not to stop some undesirable behavior but to build new skills. For that it is important not only to provide insights into what the person needs to improve but also to provide encouragement so he or she wants to improve and leaves the conversation energized and ready to implement your feedback.

The way to achieve it is to end up on positive note that helps the person to feel good about the progress and about himself. You need to build the self-esteem of the person while not hiding the areas he or she needs to improve. This is the way evaluations at Toastmasters work (http://www.toastmasters.org/EffectiveEval).

“Hi John, thank you for coming. I was just going through your report and want to give you my thoughts on it. I can see you put lots of effort into it and I appreciate it. The way you are able to pull all the data together is just phenomenal. Now, how can I help you to make it even better next time? To get the most of the reports I would suggest representing the data in a form of a graph next time so the trends are more visible. I would also like to see executive summary at the beginning so I don’t need to go through the whole report unless there is something that catches my eye. I can see huge improvement from last time so focus on the graphs and the summary and you will get your reports to the next level.”

You may skip the last sentence, as it essentially makes it a sandwich, and instead offer help in a form of “If you are still unsure on how to make it better feel free to come to me with questions.” That way you make it half-sandwich which is more direct and in healthy environment is all what is needed.

Corrective feedback

Sometimes you don’t need to develop a skill or provide feedback on how to have reasonably good work even better but you want to give corrective feedback on behavior that is simply unacceptable and needs to be stopped or changed immediately. This is no time for sugar coating it or beating around the bush. It is also the most difficult type of feedback you may need to provide. So how do you approach it? By being very direct to drive the message home. You need to be very clear to ensure that there is no misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what you are trying to say.

“Hi John, I just saw your report and it just sucks. I told you several times and you never listen. It is just bad and you need to re-do it right now. Put some graphs there, summarize better and don’t come to me unless it is perfect. Don’t screw it up as always and for once just get it right.”

… ehm, very direct, very confrontational and most likely very inefficient as John is probably still not sure what he needs to change, plus he will most likely become defensive and not able to improve anyway. What he will most likely get from this ranting of yours is “My boss has a really bad day. There is nothing wrong with my report, he just doesn’t know what he wants.”

How to say it

To make the feedback direct and at the same time useful and “receivable” is to follow couple of basic rules

  • Know your team – it all starts days or months before you provide the feedback. If the person you want to give corrective feedback knows you, if he or she got some positive acknowledgement in the past and if you talk to them regularly and not only when you are unhappy there are more likely to receive your feedback
  • Make it safe – you need to ensure that the person is able to listen to what you are saying. You need to create environment when the person understands that you are not attacking but you want to help.
  • Use contrasting when needed – a nice method to help creating safety is to explicitly say what “you are not doing”; for example “The last thing I want is for you to feel angry about this. My goal is to give you helpful suggestions so you can grow at this company.”
  • Describe what you see but don’t interpret – never generalize and never interpret. You are not telepath so always talk only about what you observe. To achieve this use “I” instead of “You”. “You” often feels judgmental or patronizing and can put the other person in defensive position. It is better to describe everything in first person.
  • Don’t exaggerate – words like “always” or “never” should be never used as they generalize, will make the person defensive and will detract from the point you are trying to make
  • Describe impact on the person or on the team – sometimes it may help to reinforce the message to show the big picture and get the person to understand the natural consequences of his behavior. You are not threatening, you just want the person to understand how his behavior impacts his future, the team, the company.
  • Focus on future – don’t talk too much about past and don’t demand explanations of “why” as it will just lead to pointing fingers and finding excuses.
  • Don’t repeat the same point several times – that feels like nagging and at the end may dilute the message; say it once and as clearly as possible
  • Listen and get commitment – try to understand the position of the other person to make sure you are fair and at the same time you want to get commitment from the person that he or she will improve. It is also important to clarify anything that may be unclear and open to interpretations.
  • Create ownership – follow up is really important but you shouldn’t own it. If you want to create ownership by the person he or she needs to own also the follow up session.

“Hi John, thank you for coming. I wanted to talk about the report you gave me yesterday. There are couple of areas that I feel needs to be improved next time. I see you were able to gather an impressive amount of data and when I was going through it I had really hard time getting oriented in all the numbers. I feel some graphs would help and I’m also not sure whether I understand the implication of the data. What do you think about these observations?… [here you give John a chance to comment so it is more of a conversation and you are building ownership of John to include the graphs next time, maybe clarifying what type of graphs and how many] …This sounds good. So to summarize it, next time you will include couple of graphs to illustrate the most important trends and you will also include a short executive summary at the beginning. I want to help you to get it perfect, so can you get on my calendar one day before the next report is due so we can review the draft together?”

When to say it

Say it now! If you want your feedback to have the right impact you need to say it as close to the event you are commenting on as possible. In most cases it should be immediately after you observe the behavior you feel needs to be addressed. The only exceptions are when the person receiving the feedback or yourself are in emotional turmoil. If you are emotional you won’t be able to give a good feedback and you are likely to cause more damage than good. And the same applies if the recipient is emotional. Then you may want to postpone it to ensure that when you are giving the feedback it is being received.

Twitter type summary: “When giving feedback always keep the desired outcome in mind. Is it about corrective action or building self-esteem?”

What is your favorite way of providing feedback? What did work for you and what didn’t?

Let the team win

Had you ever struggled with motivating your team and creating a sense of ownership for a brand new initiative that you came up with? Did you feel like you have to explain everything in a big detail and the team still doesn’t get it and the project doesn’t progress as you wanted? What was happening?

Your ego may be at fault here. You are pushing too hard, you want to show that you have answers to all the questions and dictate to the team what and how they should do.

So how do you spur an action and create a sense of ownership by the team for an idea that you came up with? There are several ways how to approach this problem and it really depends on personalities in your team.

Plant the idea

Imagine this situation. You just spent month thinking about an improvement of some process your team is using. You analyzed lots of data, talked with several people, and drafted a proposal for discussion with your boss. You then talked to him and he didn’t seem to be particularly impressed. But he said he will think about it. Two weeks later there is a meeting your boss has with all his subordinates and he introduces the idea and strongly pushes for implementation. He even invited people from other departments to get the necessary support. Not once on that meeting is mentioned your name. You feel disappointed, maybe a bit angry. But why? Is it more important to you getting the credit or implementing the idea? Your boss just took ownership of the idea, will push it forward and he will have better chance of succeeding than you would have. You should feel proud that something you came up with will be now implemented. These things happen and you should always look at it from the perspective whether things got done and not who takes credit.

Give credit

Let go of your ego. When someone takes ownership of your idea the best thing you can do it to provide him any support he needs. Just be careful not to add “I had the same idea a year ago” as it would just kill the sense of ownership by the team on the spot.

Let me give you an example each of us encounters all the time. A member of your team comes to you. He is smiling, full of enthusiasm and says “I have a great news for you. We just finished the project two days sooner than expected.” And your answer? “Yes, I know.” Such a let down! Why do you need to show off? You just took something away from the person who came with the message and you missed a great opportunity to increase the motivation of the team. The correct answer is “That is great! You guys did an incredible job.” Who cares that you already knew about it?

Play Devil’s advocate

What does it mean? Essentially arguing points against your idea and thus not letting others to use them. It has the advantage that it pushes the team or your opposing person to argue for your idea thus making it their own.

This technique is a bit manipulative and manipulation as a general rule shouldn’t be part of leader’s repertoire. To make it more transparent you may want to make it clear to the team what you are actually doing here. When the discussion gets going you can make a statement like this “Guys I really like the idea but let me play Devil’s advocate here. I see this or that problem with it. How do you want to resolve it?” That way you stimulate the discussion, letting the team to find the solution and take the ownership while not lying to them.

Show vision, not details

Another way is to provide just a high-level vision, a basic outline of the idea but let the team figure out all the details. Even though you may have already pretty good feel about how it should be implemented just keep it to yourself. If you share all the details then you won’t give opportunity to others to take the idea as their own and you won’t be able to create a sense of ownership. The team may still do it but without passion and they will do it just because you are the boss and not because the success of the initiative matters to them.

All in all it is always about giving chance to others to contribute and do things their own way without you pushing “the only correct” solution all the time. And yes, in the grand scheme of things you are responsible for the outcomes of your team’s work so when things go wrong you need to be able to step up and take ownership. In the times of crisis stand by your team and work together to get it resolved and make sure you own the failure and take the consequences. The team needs to understand what was wrong, get the feedback, learn from it, but to the outside world you are the one to take the blame.

Twitter type summary: “Leader is visible to the world in the times of crisis. When there is a credit to be taken he stands in the shadows.”

What is your experience with marshaling a team to support your idea? Do you dwell on who came up with it or do you focus more on the actual execution and results?

Is coaching for everyone?

In a post “Coaching approach to leading people” I talked about how to manage people using coaching approach. One question that I sometimes get is whether that approach works for everyone. The simple answer is “yes.” Coaching approach is something that works across different personality types, organizations and cultures. However, one needs to understand that it is not suitable for every situation and also the extent of success will vary from person to person.

What are the prerequisites?

There is single most important prerequisite: willingness of the person to get coached and desire to improve. If you try to coach someone who is not willing to change then no amount of coaching will work. In fact if someone doesn’t want to change then there is no approach that will work as you cannot change someone’s behavior against his will. And it doesn’t need to be just about change. For such a person you need a different management style in every interaction.

Who else? For more junior members of your team coaching will still work but may not be enough. You will need to combine it with some training, mentoring and other tools for developing people.

Is it appropriate for this situation?

The only question you should ask is whether the situation or the topic is appropriate for a coaching approach. Where coaching won’t work well is when you need to develop technical or functional skills of your employee. For this particular need some training and mentoring are generally better approaches. At the other hand where coaching really works are behavioral issues. If you need to change attitude of someone on your team (for example to be better team player, to be better listener, to be more assertive) coaching is a nice way how to achieve the goal. Though still, the person must understand the need and be willing to improve.

Is it the right management style?

It depends. As a general rule in knowledge based workplace it will do miracles that would be difficult to achieve by other means or management styles. However, there are situations when you need to adjust your management style to get things done. A typical situation would be an emergency. The same way as consensus is not the best way how to make fast decisions it is not appropriate to use coaching management style when you need your team to act fast and “without thinking”. If you are in a damage control mode you need your team to follow orders and you can leave the coaching for another time.

Will it work in my culture?

When it comes to different cultures then similarly to different people not everyone will react the same way to this approach. You may consider explaining a bit more what you are doing, what is your expectation and what are the boundaries and guidelines for you and your employee will work together. When you look at the research done by International Coach Federation (2012 ICF Global Coaching Study) coaching is a really worldwide movement and you can find presence of this profession in countries around the world. It is estimated that there are 47.500 professional coaches (18.400 in Americas; 21.300 in Europe; 2.100 in Middle East and Africa; and 5.700 in Asia and Oceania). Coaching works everywhere and you just need to be sensitive to the needs of your employee.

Twitter type summary: “Coaching works for anyone who is willing to get coached, has an open mind and a strong desire to improve.”

What are the situations when coaching didn’t work for you? What approaches did work?

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?