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8 Ways The Best Leaders Motivate The Best In Others

For some time now there has been a misconception floating around that no one can motivate anyone else; that all motivation comes from within an individual.

But stop and think. Can’t you remember a number of times when you were inspired by someone else? Perhaps you had a boss who got you so excited about a project that you produced far beyond your usual capacities. Or maybe you had a mentor who believed in you more than you believed in yourself, and as a result, you achieved things you never thought you could achieve.

Of course, you have had times like that. The fact is you can be highly motivated by someone else. When Napoleon was on the field, for example, Wellington said it was the equivalent of fighting against another 40,000 men.

The question is, what can you do to motivate the best in others? I’ve found 8 strategies that work extremely well, on and off the job

1. Create an Emotionally Exciting Vision

People get fired up by a cause or a dream. They work for something they believe in. They don’t work for a company or someone else’s organizational objective such as “increased market share.” Numbers don’t cut it. As Motorola says, the cry of “‘Shareholder equity! Rah! Rah! Rah!’ just doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning. But a compelling vision does!”

So give your employees or coworkers (or even your kids) an exciting vision. Follow the example of the great companies. They all have a vision that captures the hearts of their people. Great companies such as ServiceMaster (“Honoring God in all we do”), Walt Disney (“We create happiness”), and Southwest Airlines (“Have fun and make a profit”) have exciting visions. And you as a leader must create an equally exciting vision for your people.

2. Talk About the Vision

It’s not enough to simply have an exciting purpose. You’ve got to talk about it. Frequently. With the right kind of words. Truly great motivators know that well-chosen words, if repeated often enough will eventually gain a following. Franklin Roosevelt, for example, was able to coin phrases that summarized his dream, and those phrases helped an entire nation get through the Great Depression. And the whole western world owes its existence to the words of Winston Churchill; words that gave hope in an almost hopeless World War II situation.

3. Act With Enthusiasm

If the people around you see you doing a little more than just “put in your time”, waiting for the next early retirement program, don’t expect them to be motivated. And don’t expect them to follow your lead. Rather, show your passion. Let them see it in your actions and hear it in your words. You can’t be shy, reserved, distant, or unavailable and at the same time be an effective motivator.

After all, enthusiasm is contagious. When a leader attacks a project with enormous energy, others quickly notice and eventually find themselves affected by it. The reason is quite simple—people love to work for those who love what they are doing. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is a triumph of enthusiasm.

4. Believe in Your People

More than anything else, it is your attitude toward the people in your business that will determine the success or failure of your attempts to motivate them. If the other people know you expect good things from them, they will in most cases go to great lengths to live up to your expectations.

It’s like the banker who often dropped a coin in the beggar’s cup. Unlike most people, the banker would insist on getting one of the pencils the beggar had with him. The banker would say, “You are a merchant, and I always expect to receive good value from the merchants with whom I do business.”

One day the beggar was gone. Some years later the banker walked by a concession stand, and there was the former beggar, now a shopkeeper. The shopkeeper said, “I always hoped you might come by some day. You are largely responsible for me being here. You kept telling me I was a merchant. I started thinking of myself that way. Instead of a beggar receiving gifts, I started selling pencils, lots of them. You gave me self-respect and caused me to look at myself differently.”

Ask yourself, do you believe in your coworkers? Do you see the beggar or the merchant in those around you? It makes all the difference in the world.

5. Demand Excellence

Excellence shows you care. The easy teacher or laissez-faire manager conveys the message that the organization is not worth caring about and neither are the people. As Superintendent of Schools Bill Honig says, “Kids respect courage. They say, ‘If you don’t make me do it, you don’t care about me’.”

Of course, if you demand excellence, if you sanction incompetence, if you enforce high standards, you will be temporarily disliked. So be it. While doing a program with Lou Holtz, the great football coach, he said, “If you desperately need people to like you, you’ll never have their respect.”

You must be willing to tell people when they do not meet expected standards. You must be willing to correct people’s mistakes. You must demand excellence.

Now you may be saying, “Just a minute. I’m not a leader. I don’t have a title. I don’t have the power to do some of the things you just suggested.”

That may be true, but the best definition of leadership is influence, and you influence those around you. You can do most if not all of the things I just outlined. You can act like a leader, no matter what position you hold.

You can also communicate like a friend. People are, after all, motivated by those who make them feel good. Of course, you may not be “friends” with your coworkers. You don’t have to be. But if you communicate like a friend, using some of the following strategies, you’ll go even further in motivating them.

6. Remind Your Coworkers How Important They Are

Whenever you hear someone use the “just” word, correct them. Don’t let people get away with minimizing themselves by saying “I’m just a bookkeeper”, or “I’m just a contract worker” or, “I’m just a …” whatever.

Thomas H. Haggai put it well. He wrote, “The president of a giant corporation may be recognized as important, but the job cannot be done without the shelves you stock, the cloth you weave, the wood you finish, the sale you make, the machinery you build, the smile you give a new customer. The company cannot survive without people like you.”

If your colleagues are truly important, as point 6 just addressed, then it’s only natural that you would ask for their input. You make them a real part of the team by asking them what they think, listening to their responses, and following through whenever possible.

One of my corporate clients did exactly that, with wonderful results. Several of their HR people travelled from office to office, holding meetings with everyone in the company, from entry-level up through the executive level. The HR professionals held up one report after another and simply asked, “Do you need this report?” and listened to what their people had to say. And as a result, they eliminated six million pages of unnecessary reports – a huge saving of time, money, and energy, and a dramatic show of respect for the input of their employees. So ask for their input and listen. It’s almost impossible to motivate someone if you don’t take the time to listen to them.

Finally, in your quest to bring out the best in others…

8. Keep Your Promises

Saying one thing and doing another shows a blatant disregard for people’s feelings. Friends don’t do that to each other.

People, seldom if ever, forget a promise. It is not good enough to tell someone, “I’m sorry. I forgot” or “I got busy.” It doesn’t build trust, and it doesn’t motivate others. Even if you have to write down every promise you make, do it, and keep that list in sight until you have followed through on every promise.

The bottom line is you can motivate others when you apply one or more of these strategies.

Oh, you may get some pushback and naysayers when you do so. So what? As a leader and motivator, you can’t be intimidated by the criticism of others.

Lincoln taught us that when he was viciously attacked by the Eastern press. Being a wise motivator, he did not ignore his critics, but he also knew he could not motivate people if he tried to please everyone. So he posted this sign:

If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how—the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end.

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