The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


April 2014
Motivational Leadership
Being more self-aware can help to inspire employees
By Dr. Greg Story

Can leaders motivate others? Is the leader responsible for the drive, energy, engagement, consistent attitude, and innovative outlook of their team? Hollywood says we are. Rousing soapbox oratory, stirring speeches in the locker room at half time, and passionate battlefield calls for sacrifice are legendary scenes from the movies. But what about at work?

Leaders energetically telling others “be motivated, be motivated” doesn’t work. The leader can create a work environment where self-motivation can flourish, maybe.

Why maybe? Most leaders seem to have had a charisma bypass. They were promoted because of their individual and, often, idiosyncratic technical expertise.

They are not great communicators, not great with people; simply not inspirational at all.

American businessman Lee Iacocca once said, “Motivation is everything.You can do the work of two people, but you can’t be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next person down the line and get them to inspire their people.”

Here lies the problem; not only have leaders got to be able to inspire those who report directly to them, but they also have to be able to teach employees how to pass the inspiration on to their teams. Role model and teach-by-example elements are combined here. Most leaders can’t manage one, let alone both.

As leaders, we don’t have to be perfect. However, there are seven things we should stop doing because they are potentially demotivating the team. By simply being a bit more self-aware, we can help lift motivation.
Check that this isn’t you:

1. Possess poor listening skills
How long do we usually try to talk to people who don’t want to listen? Once. If that is you, we keep our best thoughts, ideas, innovations, and insights to ourselves because we know we are wasting our breath.

If you notice that you are the source of all the ideas, this should be a warning signal. The best ideas often come from those closest to the action and, in your more senior role, this is no longer you.

2. Perpetrate the killer three Cs: criticizing, condemning, and complaining
This behavior guarantees to foster no risk taking, slow decision-making and sycophants. Putting people down makes it difficult to lift the results, so study how to best deal with your people’s mistakes.

3. Promoting the black arts of cynicism and sarcasm
Sarcastic comments fillet team motivation clumsily and remorselessly. The cynicism of the corner office “prophet of doom” eventually kills all hopes for the future.

Want positive outcomes? Be positive in verbal and body language, as well as in actions!

4. Lack of interaction
Every busy boss is balancing the trade-off of their concentrated personal production hours with spending more time with the team. However, how do we build common understanding, share ideas, experiences, and views in a busy life?

These activities require time, so communicate, involve, and share. These activities work wonders for team spirit.

5. Playing favorites
You may be blissfully unaware you are even doing this. Remember, your job is to build people and manage processes. If you want to increase motivation, build all employees, not just your best buddies.

6. Showing a lack of common courtesy
Are you barking out commands without saying “please” when requesting action or adding a “thank you” when it is completed? Do you come to work full of worries? Is the pressure making your mood grim and subject to major fluctuations during the day?

It is hard to feel motivated working for Grumpy, so check you are showing sufficient respect for the team.

7. Using secrets as a power play

Everyone in the team likes to know what is going on. Keeping secrets, holding closed-door meetings, and announcing sudden changes mangles the team commitment.

So, what should you be doing instead?

Abraham Maslow’s book, Motivation and Personality, introduced the now famous hierarchy of needs. He theorized that everyone is motivated by a progression of needs, represented in a pyramid with the most basic needs at the bottom and the highest at the top.

Maslow believed motivation is driven by the satisfying of each level of need from bottom to top, and that people are usually motivated to move to the next level when the more basic order of need has been satisfied.

According to Maslow, the boss must create a motivational environment that meets the needs of team members at each level of the hierarchy to inspire them to strive to the next level.

To do this, a boss has to know their people and be sensitive to where they are currently in terms of their career and aspirations. The boss needs to communicate hope and the way forward together, so the employee can progress to the next stage.

As leaders, how well do we know the hopes, fears, dreams, and situations of our team? They want to know the boss is in their corner, actively working to help them further their careers.

The younger the generation, the more vivid this idea is. Of course, a boss can’t do it for us, but can create the environment in which we can do it ourselves.

In 1959 Fredrick Herzberg published The Motivation to Work, in which he theorized that workers face two basic sets of factors in their jobs: maintenance factors (relationships with team members, work conditions, salary, status, and security) and motivating factors (achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement, and personal growth).

Herzberg related the level of job satisfaction to the presence or absence of motivating factors.
Many of us may believe that salary is a highly motivating, rather than maintaining, factor for our team. But, for the majority of employees this is not the case, so we need to look for other areas in which to engage them.

Motivational factors rely on the communication skills of the boss to create an environment where employees feel appreciated, relevant, and inspired to try even harder.

Praise is one of the nascent arts of leadership today. You assume they know, so why do you have to state it? Somehow they know you appreciate them, even though you never bring it up. Maybe not.

We have to re-examine some of our basic assumptions. In 2012–13, global research on engagement was duplicated in Japan and of those employees who stated they were “very satisfied” with their boss, less than half said they felt “engaged.”

Most bosses would be relieved to have staff say they were “very satisfied” with them, and would, thus, expect that they would also be highly engaged. However, the results show that we cannot be so optimistic.

This underlines the need for leaders to look for the points of motivation in their team, work hard on these, and clearly isolate and understand what are purely maintenance factors.

In The Human Side of Enterprise, Douglas McGregor introduces theory X and theory Y management. Theory X (top down management, authoritative in nature) produced poor results.

Leaders see their employees as shirking work, untrustworthy, and avoiding responsibility. Thus, they must be threatened with punishment to meet objectives, given directions, and told what to do and how to do it.

Meanwhile, theory Y management creates a participative, team-oriented environment where management frees individuals to perform better, while allowing them to grow and develop their skills. Leaders believe workers are capable of controlling and directing themselves, are more motivated by rewards than punishment, enjoy responsibility, and have capacity for creativity and ingenuity.

This type of boss is open to ideas from the team, prepared to delegate responsibility, and tries to build people and manage processes.

Predating Herzberg and McGregor, Dale Carnegie introduced his well-known 30 principles of successful human relations, published in his global best seller How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936).

Carnegie concluded that the best way to influence the behavior or motivation of others is by adjusting your own behavior. The leader takes 100 percent of the responsibility for making the relationship as productive as possible by fostering a truly motivational environment.

He didn’t believe the leader was responsible for the followers’ actions, but was responsible for the work environment and the control of their own attitude.

Carnegie’s principles focused on providing practical guidance to achieve better people skills, including common sense (but not common practice) advice. This underlines the leader’s role in focusing not on what they want, but understanding what their team members want.

Sales guru Zig Ziglar often said, “If you can help enough people get what they want in this life, you can get what you want.” It is the same idea for the boss; don’t focus on what you want, focus on what your people want. Maslow, Herzberg, McGregor, and Carnegie have been telling us this for a long time—this is how to motivate the team.



Dr. Greg Story is president of Dale Carnegie Training Japan.