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Emma Littmoden

The Living Leader


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Living Leader Learnings: How can I make all of my team equally motivated?


The challenge:

The manager of operations and logistics for a national vehicle leasing company asks:
“I have always believed that I am a pretty good motivator, but the performance levels across my team differ significantly. A number of people always exceed expectations, but the rest of the team are just not stepping up in the same way. What might I be missing?”
The solution
The Living Leader replies:
Firstly, in reality we cannot motivate others – motivation comes from within so, as leaders, our role is to inspire people to motivate themselves. What are you doing on a daily basis to really inspire members of your team who seem to be struggling to meet your performance expectations?
One of the things that many of the clients taking part in our personal leadership programme acknowledge is that they find it easy to appreciate the people in their team who are doing well – the high performers – but not so easy to appreciate those who are performing at an average or perhaps below average level.
In fact, they frequently admit that folks in the latter category get little other than criticism. Their justification for this is that, because they care about them and want to help them improve their performance, they point out where they are getting it wrong and how to put it right.
Understandable, but not very useful – not if you want to foster truly outstanding performance, that is.
If you are struggling in the job in whatever area, you know it deep down even if you hope that others don’t. You will probably be waking up in the middle of the night worrying about how you can do better. So you are already not feeling good, which has a negative impact on your ability to think effectively.
Vicious and virtuous circles
Then, if your boss, who hasn’t said anything supportive to you in weeks, points out your shortcomings – guess what? Your performance is at risk of getting even worse. Your attention is now on all of the negative things – and it has been well researched that the areas in which you place your attention will grow, which means that you are liable to end up in a downward spiral.
Therefore, as a leader, what you are effectively doing is widening the gap between high and low performers. If high performers are regularly being told how good they are, their thinking and feel-good factor will get better and better, which will, undoubtedly, improve their performance.
But underperformers will feel under more and more pressure, their ability to think effectively will be further hampered and their energy depleted, which means that their performance is likely to simply get worse.
Obviously I am not suggesting that you ignore poor performance, but what I am saying is look at how can you inspire someone whose confidence is probably already on the floor to begin to improve.
As well as helping them to develop skills in areas that they find difficult, identify things that they do each day – however minor they might seem – which are in line with the values and requirements of their role and the team, and acknowledge them. 
Be careful to notice anything that they do well and tell them so. If you can do this, making your praise as precise as possible all the while, you will have an impact on their focus and are likely to see their whole demeanour change. The result is that performance is highly likely to take an upward turn.
Emma Littmoden is a partner at leadership programme provider, The Living Leader.

One Response

  1. Praise won’t help much if somebody is out of flow…

    Hi Kim

    I definitely agree that managers need to focus on what their team members are doing well – well done for highlighting that. While it may seem obvious it isn’t always done in practice. As they say:

    "Where your focus goes, grows…"

    I think there are times though when a manager will find it hard to praise a staff member, if they are struggling to find something to praise… This may be the case if an employee is out of flow. What I mean by flow is that they are working to their strengths and adding value to the team in a way that it can be leveraged effectively. (You can’t get into flow on your own you see…)

    This often requires conversations with the team member to establish where it is that they truly shine and where appropriate, tweaking their responsibilities and accountabilities to allow them to do this.

    After helping people to get into flow they immediately are much happier about their work, their performance improves – often massively – and morale and motivation increases. Suddenly people see where they fit in the jigsaw and how what they have to offer is an essential part of the bigger picture. Because learning how to get into flow is addressing underlying causes, not symptoms, these improvements are sustainable.

    When a team is in flow there are many, many opportunities for a manager to support their team and its performance by praising what they each do well…

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