As managers and leaders we can do very little to motivate others. Unfortunately, we can very easily demotivate (e.g. by unfair and abusive behaviors).
But we can do a lot to create something more important: Engagement and Satisfaction, which have a more sustainable effect on positivity and productivity.

The true responsibility of a leader is to engage others around a common compelling intention (the purpose) and to make sure that everyone can operate in full respect of own preferences, attitudes and values (the way of working). Only then can we enjoy the work and be effective. Only then can we really be happy and have fun. Only then can we create the WOW Factor.

A frequent question that I am asked is “how can I motivate my employees / team members / partners / suppliers / colleagues”? My answer is invariably “you cannot, not really”. But the real question is “How can I make sure that the people around me – including myself – are working at the top of their potential and enjoy it?” This question can be answered, there is a lot that can be done to create the best conditions for talents to thrive, be productive and have fun.

But first: why is it that we cannot motivate others? Motivation is an intrinsic, personal and situational state. We are all driven or self motivated in one direction or another; some are motivated to realize themselves in a career or a hobby; some are driven to pursue spiritual solace, contemplation, rest or solitude; some are driven to dedicate themselves to social activities or family, others to individual achievements. Our motivation takes different forms and degrees and can be affected by contingent events, like sickness of a relative or the imminence of an exciting journey. Motivation is linked to our genetic, experiential and contingent situations and as such it is extremely personal.

As beautifully described by Daniel Pink in his book “Drive”, attempts to motivate by traditional “carrot and stick” methods are largely ineffective and often counterproductive. Compensation and rewards certainly have their place in managing organizations, but have little to do with creating the proper conditions for talents to produce, collaborate, thrive and be happy.

The first secret of getting the best out of others and of ourselves is primarily “Engagement”. A little anecdote goes far in exemplifying a concept; I often use the story of the janitor who worked at Cape Canaveral in the Sixties, andwas asked by a visitor who saw him repair a pipe: “what are you doing?”; his proud answer was “we are sending a man to the moon”, which exemplifies how one can feel valuable and engaged in any jobs, when it is part of a common intention, something that we like and we believe in.
The second secret is related to being able to work in a way that matches our preferences and “satisfies” our needs; everybody can stretch for a period, but we get very frustrated and fatigued if we are forced to work long periods of time in a way that is completely against our attitudes (e.g. alone and in silence when we like noise and company, or vice versa; with lots of rules and regulations when we prefer freedom or vice versa).

Thus we can be engaged and not satisfied or satisfied and not engaged; in both cases we will unlikely be at the top of our brilliance and we might decide to steer our motivation towards a more fulfilling direction.

What can we do?

First of all, always start from the common intention, debate it, discuss it, use it as a “working progress”, the important thing is not the actual statement; it is the dialogue that we keep alive around it.

Second, we must spend time understanding and respecting our individual preferences.

Periodic discussions around these topics are proven to increase the positivity and productivity of teams.

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