Motivating People Starts with Having the Right Attitude

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Monique Valcour for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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Most leaders know what strong motivation looks like. When I ask leadership development clients to describe the type of motivation they’d like to see in their teams, they mention qualities such as persistence, being a self-starter, having a sense of accountability for and commitment to achieving results, and being willing to go the extra mile on projects or to help other team members. But many leaders have little idea of how to boost or sustain that level of motivation.

Many leaders don’t understand that they are an integral part of the motivational ecosystem in their companies. The motivational qualities listed above appear most frequently when employees feel valued, trusted, challenged, and supported in their work — all things that leaders can influence. For better or worse, leaders’ attitudes and behaviors have a huge effect on employees’ drive and capacity to perform.

One problem that gets in the way is a mechanistic, instrumental view of the human beings who sit at our companies’ desks. Seeing compensation as the primary or only tool we can use to motivate high performance is like trying to build a house with only a hammer. What gets lost is that incentives, regardless of which ones are applied, filter through employees’ brains along with every other aspect of the employment experience. How employees experience work from day to day has a bigger influence on their motivation than their compensation and benefits package.

Another barrier to a leader’s capacity to motivate is the widespread, mistaken belief that motivation is an inherent property of the employee — “they either have it or they don’t.” In fact, motivation is a dynamic process, not a stable employee characteristic. When we judge an employee to be irredeemably unmotivated, we give up on trying to motivate them. A vicious cycle ensues, in which our attitude and behaviors elicit exactly those behaviors we expect from an unmotivated employee, which in turn reinforces and justifies our verdict and approach. Everybody loses: The organization is deprived of the employee’s full contribution, the leader acts unskillfully, and the employee grows increasingly disengaged.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Monique Valcour is an executive coach, keynote speaker, and management professor. She helps clients create and sustain fulfilling and high-performance jobs, careers, workplaces, and lives. Follow her on Twitter @moniquevalcour.

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