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We had a great discussion this week in one of our leadership training classes.  A new manager asked for ideas on how to motivate their team members.  I stayed quiet for a bit and let the group ponder and share their ideas (this is NOT easy for me!). Someone in the group finally asked what I was holding back, “Can we really motivate others?”

Most research points to no.  In Understanding MotivationCarter McNamara, MBA, PhD states that we can motivate people in the short term with fear, intimidation, effective delegation, and coaching, but “when attempting to help motivate people, it’s important to identify what motivates each of them. Ultimately, long-term motivation comes from people motivating themselves.”

In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins suggests that we get the right people on the bus.  “The right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired-up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be a part of creating something great.”  That does NOT mean, though, that there is this select group of the “right people” who will do this.  We have to find our own “right people” who have the inner drive because our company has a culture, a mission, or a project that connects with their inner drive.

Yet, it seems like so many companies keep looking for the magic bullet or the magic answer to “How do I motivate my team?” Lou Holtz, former football coach at Notre Dame, once said, “It’s not my job to motivate players. They bring extraordinary motivation to our program. It’s my job not to de-motivate them.”

Maybe we should concentrate a bit more on that; not DE-motivating them with one size fits all approaches or corporate wide programs. My advice is to:

  1. Hire the right people who connect with your culture, your values, and your mission.
  2. Get the people “off the bus” when it no longer connects (maybe it never did, or maybe it changed over time).
  3. Allow people to do what they do best every day – the greater the percentage of their time (because it won’t be 100%!), the better it will work.

If we can do these 3 steps, we will no longer have to ask how to motivate team members; they won’t need it.   Just try it!

JoDee Curtis
JoDee Curtis
JoDee Curtis is the Founder of Purple Ink, Powered by Purple Ink, and the ink pad, author of four books in the JoyPowered® series, and co-host of The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast. She has a passion for helping organizations and individuals discover their talents, do more of what they do well through her speaking and training, and find joy in their work.

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