I’m still amazed after all the psychological research that has been conducted, compiled, and distributed that so many businesses still employ “scare” tactics as a means to elevate, enhance, and drive performance.
It’s almost comical how barking and bellowing orders is still a thing. Though, the irony is, it’s not funny at all, and these “strategies” are still very alive and well across far too many companies.
The truth is that these measures often cost the company more in terms of increased levels of stress, anxiety, pressure, and dissatisfaction among employees. It’s the feeder system for burnout and turnover.
The idea that people need to be constantly “told” what to do, watched over with a hawk’s eye, and micromanaged to death, and is preposterous!
I mean, aren't we all grown-ass adults?
Think about it for a minute. We are hiring grown adults, with degrees, expertise, experience, and knowledge into our businesses. And, if we are smart, we are higher people who can do the job better than we can.
Why, then, do we insist on treating them like subordinates, like they are disposable, and then feel the compulsive need to micromanage everything?
Perhaps, instead of browbeating people with meaningless targets and KPIs, we could consciously create spaces where individuals feel empowered to lead themselves, hold themselves accountable, and do meaningful work.
What a concept, right?
Yet, that is the very thing missing from the equation. In most cases, there’s way TOO much structure, and far TOO many rules. Most people aren’t wired to be dictated to and over on a continual basis.
We ALL need room to fail, to stretch, to falter, and to grow. No wonder creativity and innovation feel stifled in most organizations.
There’s not enough freedom or trust.
As Dan Sullivan teaches in his work through Strategic Coach, there are four fundamental freedoms people seek: Freedom of Time, Freedom of Money, Freedom of Relationships, and Freedom of Purpose.
When individuals experience these freedoms, their levels of motivation will sky-rocket. When we create business landscapes that make that the end game, we have employees and teams who want to lean in, and who choose to rise in the quality of work they execute and deliver.
People who feel valued engage and give more.
The problem is: these environments are slim to none in our current business landscape. For what exists currently is fear-based, power-hungry antics and tactics driving people’s sense of freedom into the ground, and creating ongoing cycles of extreme CYA (cover your ass) and burnout.
Rather than rising up into deeper potential, people are checking out. They are keeping their head down and doing the bare minimum to survive. Thriving isn’t even an option or on their radar. It’s a “I’m going to get mine” mentality and an endless dog-eat-dog world mindset.
Most leaders don’t fully grasp the definition of motivation. The believe it is something you force, and that it’s a one-size-fits-all approach.
Neither could be further from the truth.
Take, for instance, one of the most outdated “motivational” tools still used in business today, what is referred to as “the carrot or the stick” mentality.
In this method, people are either externally rewarded for “good” behavior and getting more accomplished, or they are negatively punished for what is perceived as “falling short” or “bad” behavior.
Both extremes are designed to control someone else’s behavior.
Neither of these maneuvers is effective over the long-term. Nor are they healthy or sustainable. They don’t connect to people’s truest motivators.
To be honest, I have never been a fan of this approach, even in my corporate days, whether with teams or as an approach to raising children. In my opinion, we are missing the entire point we when deploy this tactic.
It’s a back-and-forth ping pong game between desire versus fear.
This methodology misses one critical element: people’s need for belonging and connection. It’s a scarcity mindset (even on the carrot side), and a power play. Typically, this tactic is driven purely from fear.
It has an extremely short lifespan.
It’s not aligned with the trajectory for real growth. It ends up costing far more than the quick returns that might be captured. Not to mention, it sets a tone of imbalanced competition versus one of integrated collaboration.
Leaders are able to inspire, not motivate.
The role of a leader is to: inspire, influence, and impact. Motivation, on the other hand, is an intrinsic thing. It’s not something you can offer or do for someone else. It comes from a sense of purpose from within.
It is the function of being intentional, making a personal commitment, and actually deciding to do the thing. Essentially, motivation is a choice.
The best way to help people choose to be motivated is two-fold:
One, connect them into a meaningful mission, a deeper sense of purpose, and a powerful, compelling “why.” When individuals feel there are part of a vision that is bigger than themselves, where they can add real value, they lean in, and thus, motivation naturally becomes an organic effect.
Two, give people a space to feel empowered, and like they have autonomy in the “how.” When they have a sense of ownership and can drive the “how” of what they are doing, more times than not they will rise in the work they execute, thereby, raising the quality of their work, as well.
Again, it starts with connecting individuals to something bigger than themselves, connecting the dots so they they can see the impact of the value they offer firsthand, and how they fit into the overall mission.
Give them an opportunity to get their momentum going.
There is an old adage that states, “When I’m motivated, I’ll get momentum.” However, what we don’t realize is that this mindset is backwards.
Rather, we need to understand the basic laws of physics: a body in motion stays in motion; a body at rest stays at rest.
Such that, we need to get momentum going in order to become motivated.
We need to get our people moving. And, honestly, it is as easy as that. Adding more opportunities for physical movement can be a game-changer for your organization, and team. By the sheer momentum we create in moving our body, we begin to activate our creative juices.
Humans are not designed to sit all day, staring mindlessly at a screen.
When you create opportunities for non-linear and innovative ways to engage people, such as walking meetings, play time (seriously … this, in and of itself would be a huge catalyst for motivation), and white space to daydream, to connect and collaborate, to share ideas and truly mindstorm, you also allow people to tap into some more innate.
You help them feel seen, heard, valued, and part of something meaningful.
The laugh, they relax, and they feel part of a team … not just as another individual plugging away tirelessly at more.
It’s not about piling more on people’s plates. It’s about helping them prioritize where to put there focus. It’s carving out specific lanes for individuals to take real ownership of, and then getting out of their way.
So, how do you help your stay motivated?
Your role as a leader is to help activate the potential of your people and to raise their individual and collective leadership. It is not to micromanage them from a power-hungry, fear-based, maniacal perspective.
Your role is to create expansive and engaged cultures where people feel seen, heard, loved, valued, and respected. It’s about role modeling staying curious, playing in the realm of potential and possibilities, and it’s about making business more personal, more human.
This starts with really getting to know your people. Here are some ways you can engage your people, and help them stay motivated in their work:
- Talk to them about what their intrinsic motivators are (by the way, these change over time and with maturity).
- Get to understand their core values.
- Connect them back to the overall vision and mission.
- Help them feel the magnitude of the company’s compelling “why” AND take time to feel into their “why,” as well.
- Be crystal clear about expectations, their role, and their responsibilities.
- Learn how they like to be celebrated (rewarded and recognized) and what is most meaningful way to hold them accountable.
- Explore their preferred style of communication and leadership.
- Dig into the four fundamental freedoms with them, and take time to understand what that signifies for them.
- Assess their innate wiring and energetic blueprint (this goes beyond just looking at assessments such as DiSC, Myers-Briggs, Strengthsfinder)
It all comes down to you making an intentional commitment to invest in your people. I’m not talking about the lip service most companies and leaders spout about this, I am talking about really investing in your people.
This starts with you, as a leader, having and maintaining the mindset and belief that your people ARE your GREATEST asset.
And, knowing that that commitment is an action, a verb … as the saying goes: “What you are truly committed to can be seen in your results.”
Bottom line: Individuals are not actually motivated by external factors or incentives. So, stop barking and bellowing, and beating your chest. Let got of the carrot and the stick. Realize that your people are motivated by something much greater, more personal, and more meaningful to them.
It’s is purely an inside game.