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Unlocking the potential of your employees: the not-so-secret secrets of motivational leadership.

The working conditions couldn't have been more deplorable de·plor·a·ble  
1. Worthy of severe condemnation or reproach: a deplorable act of violence.

. Toil from dawn until dusk in unbearably hot, steamy weather with no electricity, no fresh water, no place to take a break. Do punishing physical labor with inadequate tools and even less information. Eat peanut butter, cheese from a tube, apples, and candy bars for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for three days. Sleep--if that was possible--in the back of a cramped RV with no air conditioning air conditioning, mechanical process for controlling the humidity, temperature, cleanliness, and circulation of air in buildings and rooms. Indoor air is conditioned and regulated to maintain the temperature-humidity ratio that is most comfortable and healthful. , then get up and do it all again. Perhaps worst of all, the assignment came without warning late on a Friday afternoon when most people were looking forward to the weekend. Despite these conditions, the team worked with a level of focused and committed energy, cooperation, and enthusiasm that produced a small miracle.

Many civil servants will recognize this scenario as a disaster recovery effort, which it was (the episode transpired in the wake of Hurricane Ivan This article is about the Atlantic hurricane of 2004. For other storms of the same name, see Tropical Storm Ivan (disambiguation).
Hurricane Ivan was the strongest hurricane of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season.
 last fall in northern Florida). But this wasn't a team of civil servants. It was a group of six high-level managers accustomed to working in nice offices in a large organization. They had mobilized overnight from several cities nationwide to help a colleague whose home had been severely damaged.

Admittedly, it is relatively easy to be motivated to work hard in such extraordinary circumstances. Generating that same kind of enthusiasm is more challenging in typical workday situations that lack life or death urgency. However, the good news is that skillful skill·ful  
1. Possessing or exercising skill; expert. See Synonyms at proficient.

2. Characterized by, exhibiting, or requiring skill.
 leadership can replicate in the workplace many of the elements that produce the powerful motivation that emerges in extraordinary situations. Managers who understand these elements are those whose work groups are productive and engaged in all situations. Managers who don't understand them tend to attribute lack of desired results to "bad attitude" or "lack of motivation" or to other conditions they believe are out of their ability to influence. So just what is it that successful managers understand about motivating others?

Leadership is about executing strategy through others. Arguably ar·gu·a·ble  
1. Open to argument: an arguable question, still unresolved.

2. That can be argued plausibly; defensible in argument: three arguable points of law.
, the most demanding aspect of the job of leadership is to get people to do what they are expected to do, and to do it well and with sufficient motivation to surmount sur·mount  
tr.v. sur·mount·ed, sur·mount·ing, sur·mounts
1. To overcome (an obstacle, for example); conquer.

2. To ascend to the top of; climb.

a. To place something above; top.
 the obstacles encountered along the way. Successful execution begins with understanding why people do what they do. Managers whose staffs work with commitment tend to understand that most people have a level of intrinsic motivation that must be sustained. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 Lionel Tiger Lionel Tiger (born 1937) is an anthropologist. He is the Charles Darwin Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University and co-Research Director of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. , a professor at Rutgers University Rutgers University, main campus at New Brunswick, N.J.; land-grant and state supported; coeducational except for Douglass College; chartered 1766 as Queen's College, opened 1771. Campuses and Facilities

Rutgers maintains three campuses.
, "Leaders often forget that people arrive on the scene predisposed pre·dis·pose  
v. pre·dis·posed, pre·dis·pos·ing, pre·dis·pos·es
a. To make (someone) inclined to something in advance:
 to doing a good job. People, like young baseball players, are hard-wired to want to be sent into the game." When managers are unaware of this reality, they often unwittingly engage in practices that actually drain employees of the motivation they brought with them to the job. This article offers some insights into how to obtain and sustain employee commitment.


Just exactly why motivation occurs and how leaders and organizations influence it has been the subject of decades of evolving analysis. Perhaps the earliest modern theorist the·o·rist  
One who theorizes; a theoretician.

a person who forms theories or who specializes in the theory of a particular subject.
See also: Ideas, Learning

Noun 1.
 on human motivation was Freud, who argued that people are basically lazy and must be coerced to work. Indeed, it is reported that an early 20th century training manual for U.S. Army officers warned that "enlisted men are cunning and stupid and not to be trusted." But Freud's theory has long been discounted, and common sense alone says that if it were true, managers would spend all of their time watching people who refuse to cooperate.

In the 1950s, psychologist Abraham Maslow Abraham (Harold) Maslow (April 1 1908 – June 8 1970) was an American psychologist. He is mostly noted today for his proposal of a hierarchy of human needs and is considered the father of humanistic psychology.  developed his famous "hierarchy of needs" that he theorized must be met, more or less in sequence, before people are able to ascend to the next higher level. Often depicted as a pyramid, the needs begin with basic physiological requirements and move on to needs for safety, belonging, and esteem. At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization, a state of having reached full potential where work is done for the joy of self-fulfillment. While this theory is incomplete in many ways--for example, it doesn't readily explain why the executive team members put themselves in harm's way harm's way
A risky position; danger: a place for the children that is out of harm's way; ships that sail into harm's way. 
 and tolerated miserable working conditions to help their colleague after the hurricane--it is still useful because it suggests that people become distracted by the quest for Verb 1. quest for - go in search of or hunt for; "pursue a hobby"
quest after, go after, pursue

look for, search, seek - try to locate or discover, or try to establish the existence of; "The police are searching for clues"; "They are searching for the
 more basic needs if certain foundations are not in place. For example, employees who feel unappreciated and undervalued Undervalued

A stock or other security that is trading below its true value.

The difficulty is knowing what the "true" value actually is. Analysts will usually recommend an undervalued stock with a strong buy rating.
 (an unfulfilled need for esteem) will often not feel satisfied at work and thus may not work to their full potential.

Later, Frederick Herzberg Frederick Irving Herzberg (1923 - 2000) is a noted psychologist who became one of the most influential names in business management. He is most famous for introducing job enrichment and the Motivator-Hygiene theory.  developed a theory that "satisfiers" and "dissatisfiers" in the workplace respectively create and erode Erode (ĕrōd`), city (1991 urban agglomeration pop. 361,755), Tamil Nadu state, S India, on the Kaveri River. The city is located in a cotton-growing region, and its industries include cotton ginning and the manufacture of transport equipment.  motivation. David McClellan hypothesized that people are motivated by achievement, power, and affiliation. All of these theories offer bits of useful insight into human motivation, but none is comprehensive enough to fully define the range of factors that governs, and influences, human behavior in the workplace.


Contemporary students of human motivation believe that no simple "theory of everything" exists to account for all of the behaviors of all of the people. One thing that is clear, however, is that a complex interplay of intrinsic factors intrinsic factor
A relatively small mucoprotein secreted by the parietal cells of gastric glands and required for adequate absorption of vitamin B12 for production of red blood cells. Also called Castle's intrinsic factor.
 like personality, self-perception, emotional development, and cognition cognition

Act or process of knowing. Cognition includes every mental process that may be described as an experience of knowing (including perceiving, recognizing, conceiving, and reasoning), as distinguished from an experience of feeling or of willing.
, and extrinsic factors extrinsic factor
See vitamin B12.
 like culture, the situation, and organizational practices, all play roles in workplace performance. If just one generalization gen·er·al·i·za·tion
1. The act or an instance of generalizing.

2. A principle, a statement, or an idea having general application.
 can be drawn from recent study and experience, it is that people will contribute more if they are treated as respected, valued adults who have individual motives, abilities, and pref.

In addition, researchers generally agree on three additional observations about human behavior as it relates to motivation:

* Managers or others can't really motivate people. Since motivation comes from within, managers can only create an environment that sustains motivation and eliminate factors that degrade TO DEGRADE, DEGRADING. To, sink or lower a person in the estimation of the public.
     2. As a man's character is of great importance to him, and it is his interest to retain the good opinion of all mankind, when he is a witness, he cannot be compelled to disclose

* People are motivated by self-interest. This does not necessarily mean that humans are selfish. Rather, it means that people choose actions that yield some sort of benefit for themselves or that support their interests. Managers can attempt to rationalize ra·tion·al·ize
1. To make rational.

2. To devise self-satisfying but false or inconsistent reasons for one's behavior, especially as an unconscious defense mechanism through which irrational acts or feelings are made to appear
, cajole (language) CAJOLE - (Chris And John's Own LanguagE) A dataflow language developed by Chris Hankin <> and John Sharp at Westfield College.

["The Data Flow Programming Language CAJOLE: An Informal Introduction", C.L.
, make promises, and even threaten in order to persuade people to perform as requested. But in the end, the job is easier when an employee can see how the organization's goals align in some way with his or her goals and aspirations.

* Individual people are motivated by different things. While a few generalizations can be made about factors that sustain motivation for most people, as will be described later in this article, individuals are moved by different things, based on personality, experience, life circumstances, and other conditions and characteristics. Effective managers learn what individual employees value--it may be things like security, autonomy, competence, visibility, a promotion, extra time off, or any of dozens of other factors --and help employees see how their own needs can be met by committing wholeheartedly whole·heart·ed  
Marked by unconditional commitment, unstinting devotion, or unreserved enthusiasm: wholehearted approval.

 to the job.


Based on these views about motivation and on the generalization that people who are treated respectfully will be productive, it stands to reason that leaders should make it their business to remove impediments IMPEDIMENTS, contracts. Legal objections to the making of a contract. Impediments which relate to the person are those of minority, want of reason, coverture, and the like; they are sometimes called disabilities. Vide Incapacity.
 to motivation. Too often, organizations and managers make it difficult for even the best employees to maintain their intrinsic motivation. Employees in all types of organizations are routinely treated in ways that are anything but adult and respectful. In fact, some workplace practices actually encourage passive, dependent behavior that robs people of self-respect, erodes the confidence required for consistent high performance, and induces a kind of organizationally sanctioned mediocrity me·di·oc·ri·ty  
n. pl. me·di·oc·ri·ties
1. The state or quality of being mediocre.

2. Mediocre ability, achievement, or performance.

3. One that displays mediocre qualities.
. As a puzzled manager in an organization marked by these characteristics wondered, "How can my employees, who can't seem to do anything without my say-so, be the same people who manage household budgets, organize their kids' soccer leagues, and run fundraisers for their churches?"

A case in point is the story of an intelligent, highly skilled craft laborer who has been employed by a large city for more than 25 years. This man says he learned long ago to do exactly what his boss instructs, no more and no less. He explains that when he first began his job, he put extra effort into every project, suggested improvements, and sometimes did more than he was asked to do. In most cases, he says, he was not thanked for his effort and his recommendations went virtually ignored. In some cases, he was actually reprimanded for taking unapproved un·ap·proved  
Not approved or sanctioned: an unapproved vaccine; an unapproved protest march. 
 initiative and being "too self-directed."

These messages, he says, taught him what was expected. So for more than 25 years he has been faithfully reporting to work every day but never doing anything other than what he is explicitly directed to do. If what he is asked to do will actually result in errors, he complies anyway because his boss doesn't like to be questioned. "It's just easier that way," he explains. "If things go wrong, my boss takes the heat and he can't come back at me for it because 1 was following his orders." Naturally, not all employees will respond in this way to such treatment. But most people will certainly be discouraged from committing as deeply to their work as they would have under different circumstances.

De-motivators like the ones described in this man's story come in many guises, ranging from the practice of ignoring people and their suggestions to micromanaging projects and denying decision making authority. They come in the forms of withholding feedback and compliments, failure to acknowledge concerns, and reluctance to address and correct the poor work performance of others. They show up as giving people ambiguous, nonnegotiable non·ne·go·tia·ble  
1. Difficult or impossible to settle by arbitration, mediation, or mutual concession: a nonnegotiable demand.

2. Nonmarketable.
, or unreasonable goals; as not sharing information; as not allowing people to develop their skills, apply their abilities, and learn. Fortunately, most or all of these de-motivators can be eliminated simply by adopting tried and true good management practices that every leader can use to be more successful at implementing through others.


But before explicitly describing these management practices, consider again the experiences of the executives who transformed themselves into a high-performing hurricane disaster relief team. Why were they motivated to work with such dedication and enthusiasm? Not surprisingly, most of the factors that tend to nurture motivation in the workplace were present for those three days in Florida.

First of all, the executives understood what had to be done. In workplace terminology, their goal was clear and unambiguous. Additionally, they recognized that they were doing something important and purposeful pur·pose·ful  
1. Having a purpose; intentional: a purposeful musician.

2. Having or manifesting purpose; determined: entered the room with a purposeful look.
. They knew why the goal existed and they knew the consequences of meeting or not meeting it.

Secondly, every individual's contributions were critically needed throughout the effort; everyone participated fully. Furthermore, there was no political jockeying about who would play what role and what job belonged to whom. People simply did what was necessary when it was necessary. Some specialization occurred, based on skills, interest, or circumstance, but everyone felt ownership for the entire project and worked together. The executives also gave each other feedback. They reported that they found themselves complimenting and thanking each other and making helpful suggestions.

Finally, the team members set their own work objectives, determined the order in which to tackle the many tasks involved in the cleanup, and had full autonomy to decide how they would carry out the work.


Managers who can replicate these conditions through good management are those whose employees work with commitment and produce consistently excellent results. Effective managerial leadership--the kind that sustains motivation and produces desired results--is a daily process that consists of four key activities (Exhibit 1):

Communicating expectations. In the workplace, the purpose, goals, and performance expectations for any given project are seldom as obvious as they were for the hurricane relief team. So effective managers must expend ex·pend  
tr.v. ex·pend·ed, ex·pend·ing, ex·pends
1. To lay out; spend: expending tax revenues on government operations. See Synonyms at spend.

 a good deal of energy communicating what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and the consequences that will follow actions. When people know why a job is important and how their efforts impact and contribute to outcomes, they will almost always be willing to perform. When communicating expectations, effective managers often invite people to collaborate with them to set goals because people tend to buy in to what they help create.

Delegating "how" decisions. Employees who feel responsible and accountable for their performance are almost always more committed to what they are doing. Instead of specifying exactly how a job should be done, effective managers concentrate on explaining what needs to be done, leaving employees to make as many decisions as possible about how to do it. Of course, when managers delegate, they must ensure that the employees have the skills, competence, tools, and information required to perform the task. These managers also recognize that many people want to learn and improve their skills, so delegating tasks that stretch and expand people's abilities can both sustain individual motivation and strengthen the composite capabilities of an entire staff.

Observing performance and providing frequent feedback. Lack of feedback is one of the most frequently cited complaints employees make about their work conditions. People want and need to know how they are doing. So effective managers pay attention to employees and get to know them, noting strengths, interests, aspirations, and improvement opportunities. They also give employees immediate feedback when they see the need for corrective action A corrective action is a change implemented to address a weakness identified in a management system. Normally corrective actions are instigated in response to a customer complaint, abnormal levels if internal nonconformity, nonconformities identified during an internal audit or  or performance coaching. Feedback and coaching should be based on observable work performance and should be delivered in an objective way that avoids blame or shame and that demonstrates support for and confidence in the individual.

Recognizing performance. A manager once explained that he didn't praise employees because he believed doing so would create a sense of perfection and indolence. Another manager said she resented complimenting people for doing what they get paid to do. Contrary to what these managers believe, a sincere, deserved compliment for good performance goes a long way toward demonstrating respect and appreciation for people, sustaining their intrinsic motivation, and reinforcing desired performance. Compliments are never gratuitous Bestowed or granted without consideration or exchange for something of value.

The term gratuitous is applied to deeds, bailments, and other contractual agreements.
 or patronizing when they praise specific performance and explain why the performance is appreciated.


The bottom line is that the key to keeping people motivated at work is not some arcane ar·cane  
Known or understood by only a few: arcane economic theories. See Synonyms at mysterious.

[Latin arc
 secret, nor is it an especially difficult skill to master. It simply requires treating employees like trusted, valued adults and using management practices that clarify goals and expectations and provide people with autonomy, feedback, and appreciation. One other element is required, however, and that is that leaders themselves demonstrate enthusiasm and the human touch. They must maintain their own energy and dedication to their jobs and their people. They must be willing to relinquish some control and authority. They must be empathetic em·pa·thet·ic  

empa·theti·cal·ly adv.
 to the impact of workplace demands on their people. And most importantly Adv. 1. most importantly - above and beyond all other consideration; "above all, you must be independent"
above all, most especially
, they must be human enough to stop pretending to know everything and courageous enough to apologize when they make mistakes. These behaviors alone will generate a level of employee commitment that no amount of money can buy.

RELATED ARTICLE: Does money motivate?

Money is an unreliable performance motivator unless it is an exceptionally large amount or if a large percentage of total income is directly proportional (Math.) proportional in the order of the terms; increasing or decreasing together, and with a constant ratio; - opposed to inversely proportional.

See also: Directly
 to effort, as in sales commissions. Herzberg and others suggest that when compensation is perceived as being inadequate or unfair it can de-motivate people and contribute to decisions to leave an employer. However, pay that is perceived as being fair and adequate will not motivate most people, and if it does, the effect has short duration. Few employees are willing to work harder for the promise of a raise or a bonus, unless the amount is substantial. Even fewer are willing to continue working hard simply because they already have received a raise or bonus. Factors other than money are more reliable for sustaining motivation.

LYNN MOLINE, a former business executive, is the principal of a Minneapolis consulting practice that advises government, business. and nonprofit executives on leadership issues and organizational and strategic planning Strategic planning is an organization's process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy, including its capital and people. . She may be reached at 952-926-9880 or
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Author:Moline, Lynn A.
Publication:Government Finance Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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