Managers, stop trying to motivate your staff!

Communication Courses

For much of my management career I was under the impression that one of the requirements of a good manager was to motivate their team members.  In recent years I’ve begun to wonder if that’s altogether the wrong thing!  My doubt first manifested itself when reading Prof Steve Peters suggesting that motivation was worthless – WORTHLESS!  Yes, really, the British olympic cycling teams psychologist tells his athletes to forget it, it’s a waste of time.  I liked his logic a lot.  He suggests motivation is worthless simply because some days you’re motivated and others you’re not.  What matters more he suggests is commitment.  Commitment gets you up and training, he points out, when your motivation has dropped of a cliff.  

This made me reflect on just how internal our motivation seems to be.  Some days I get loads done, others I don’t, no one has particularly influenced that, it’s just how I’m feeling.  Which if true (at least in part) it makes managing someone else’s motivation pretty tricky!  It’s a constant moving feast, and so as your manager, I have no idea what I am dealing with from day to day.  So is it in fact unhelpful to think motivating our staff is the managers role?  

My thinking isn’t fully matured on this, as it does seem evident that as a manager I am able to do things that can demotivate my team.  So it therefore stands to reason I could do other things that help to increase or perhaps maintain someones motivation.  I just wonder if thinking ‘I must motivate my team’ is the wrong thing.  In the place of this, would I be better to work on how I might ‘inspire’ my team so that they could find their own motivation?  

The logic goes like this; motivation is an internal thing going up and down on it’s own accord, so as the manager I would be better to focus on the external thing.  That is creating an environment where my people can find their own motivation.  When my motivation is low, I can find inspiration in those things others are saying or doing.  

If we stop thinking ‘motivate’ and replace it with ‘inspire’ how would our behaviours change?  Fundamentally it makes a switch from push to pull.  Rather than pushing at motivation levels, I lead and create the vacuum which can pull others into a more motivated place.   In other words I go before, leading the way, breaking new ground, going the extra mile, showing clarity and focus etc etc.  I set the environment within which others find the inspiration for their own motivation.  

I know that motivation theories abound.  Just go ahead and type those two words into google, you’ll be overwhelmed by lists of different theories.  It’s a complicated topic, but in my simple experience, I’ve been motivated most when those around me have gone out of their way to support, involve and empower me to act.  I’ve been least motivated when they have been controlling, interfering and untrusting toward me.  

Work out those things that have inspired you.  Be analytical about it, try to figure out what you could do that would set a great environment in which your team members can thrive and find their own motivation day after day.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

Will Karlsen and I explore this topic in more detail in Squeeze episode 4 have a listen.