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Motivating the Team

Originally published on September 14, 2016

This is the tenth part of a multi-part Blog on Executive Leadership

Outstanding leaders go out of the way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.

— Sam Walton

You have a great group of employees…awesome!

They seem to get along, be upbeat most of the time, and pretty productive…wonderful!

Sure, of course they are ready for a new vision and change…huh? 

No matter how well you know your staff, as a leader you need to have motivational strategies ready to assist your employees through the times when they are not upbeat, not getting along, and more importantly—when changes are coming. They need to know that they are a valued part of the team—your team. It is up to you to provide the motivational environment necessary to optimize performance and minimize discord. When this environment works, everybody wins—leaders, employees, clients, customers, other stakeholders…

Why is it so important that you, as a senior leader, provide motivation from the top-down? First, you represent the organization to your employees. In other words, to a large degree, your success is their success. Your employees feel a more open pathway to communicate to you when they actually see you in the lead—again, going back to the importance of communication. They gain experience when you share relevant experience and analogies that empower them to succeed. Because of all these motivational factors, you—as a senior leader—improve the probability of success of your employees—your team.

Guidelines to Motivate Employees

According to Bahner-Guhin, Blum, and Wilcox (2002), a helpful acronym for motivating employees may be applied to virtually every organization:


This acronym stands for:

Maximize learning from mistakes or errors

Optimize growth opportunities

Train them and trust them

Invite decision making

Validate the person

Acknowledge performance through recognition

Treasure employee successes

Exhibit sound ethics and core values

Let’s delve into each of the areas a bit deeper…

Maximize learning from mistakes or errors. Treat each of these instances as an opportunity to train and learn. By doing so, you encourage employees to take reasonable risks, encourage creativity, and enable innovation. Many valuable ideas come from mistakes or errors (Post-It notes, for example, which glue was originally supposed to be permanently bonding). When employees are encouraged to be creative and innovate, they become more motivated and invested in the organization’s goals, vision, and success.

Optimize growth opportunities. If employees observe or perceive an opportunity to grow, they will become more interested and engaged in their work. A good way to accentuate growth opportunities is to relate current directions and goals to past experiences, highlighting the opportunities for increased creativity, innovation, and growth—both for the employee(s) and the organization.

How do you offer growth opportunities? One step is like the one you are taking now—education and training experiences! Another technique that has become increasingly used as more Millennials populate the business world is to provide opportunities for not only upward, but also lateral movement within the organization. This allows employees to learn new skills and see how the various parts of the organization work together. Finally, involving employees in the decision making process—from planning to evaluation—helps foster professional understanding and growth.

Train them and trust them. Employees typically do not like it when they are told to accomplish tasks for which they have not received training; however, employees will be motivated to achieve goals and do their best work when their leaders or managers demonstrate an interest in providing them the training they need. Likewise, employees will have the confidence they need to maximize performance when they know that you—as leader—trust them. Perhaps the easiest way to demonstrate that you trust your people is to allow them to work on the task(s) with minimal supervision when able—and then ensure you include the quality of autonomous work in their feedback or evaluation.

Invite decision making. This is a step that does not really cost you anything but can have a direct positive effect on employees. Being invited to participate in decision making can both increase enthusiasm—and, therefore, performance—but also increase the employee’s feeling of having a degree of ownership in the organization and its success. Another positive aspect of including employees in decision making is that they may be able to provide guidance on task scope, such that the magnitude of the task(s) do not impede on their ability to manage their private lives. When employees have a sense of balance, they are more likely to be productive, content, even happy in both their professional and personal lives.

Validate the person. This should be a dose of common sense—your employees need to be treated with respect and dignity. In other words, they need to feel validated. In a mathematical sense, one might say that motivation and performance are directly proportional to validation.

So, how do you validate an employee? Think of it this way (remember, I said part of this was common sense?)—it is easy to validate your employees if you treat them the way you expect to be treated by them. Here are some of the ways you can act that validate your employees:

  • Listening without interrupting

  • Getting to know employees—as people

  • Not talking down to your employees

  • Asking for their points of view

  • Empathizing with your employees

Acknowledge performance through recognition. The important point about recognizing achievements is that recognition sends the message that you know your employees’ qualities and the value of their work. Without recognition you send a message that what your employees do does not matter. If you want continued excellence, repeated superior performance, or to continue a trend of improving performance (such as an employee who has had difficulties and you are remediating or building up skill sets that are deficient), you need to help your people feel good about what they accomplish.

But how do you recognize employees? First of all, not all people like recognition in the same manner…in fact, some do not like recognition at all in public. You can use recognition as a motivational tool in public or private (as appropriate) and by either written recognition or a tangible gift (yes, cash awards are tangible). If you recognize someone who was part of a team, be sure to recognize the team’s contributions—or the recognition will have a positive effect on one person and a potentially negative effect on many others who may feel left out. When possible—and appropriate—recognizing a team rather than an individual helps promote a “team mindset” among employees as well as among employees, managers, and leaders.

Exhibit sound ethics and core values. As a leader, you are in the spotlight. That also means, by default, that you are a role model for your employees. It is absolutely essential that you subscribe to a behavior pattern defined by ethical behavior and good core values—because your employees will use them as a measuring rod to determine the level of ethics and values expected of them. If you maintain highly ethical behavior and core values, employees will respect you as a leader and as an individual professional. Four questions that you may ask yourself to gauge your ethics and values include:

  • Does my behavior consistently reflect my ethical standards and core values?

  • Do I ever encourage or even suggest to my employees that they compromise their ethics or core values? Whether intentional or unintentional, you can assess this by analyzing whether the tasks you assign them are unethical or unreasonable.

  • Do I take credit for what my employees have done or do I give them credit where credit is due?

  • Do I ever blame my employees for results of my own poor leadership or management?

The Costs of Poor Leadership

Let’s start with the obvious indicator—your financial reports. It does not matter whether you are a non-profit, for-profit, or public organization/agency—one of the easiest metrics to quantify and evaluate is your bottom line. But that is neither the only indicator nor the most important indicator—finances can be analyzed and changes made to achieve better results. No, the real and enduring costs of poor leadership include:

  • Uninformed, untrained, and poorly developed employees

  • Lack of employee initiative and creativity

  • Reduced—or no—employee participation or commitment

In the fast-paced, modern workplace, organizations cannot afford to ignore the need to motivate employees (by the way, motivate your managers, too!). The cost in currency and human capital is high when you fail as a leader, but the rewards for success in being a motivational leader are immense.


Next week will be part eleven of the series: Workplace Harmony


Bahner-Guhin, C., Blum, C., & Wilcox, A. (2002). Managerial leadership. United States: Course Technology.



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