Motivating takes more than me.

December 7, 2009 § 12 Comments

I had a Eureka moment the other day during a training session. Now the point of attending workshops and taking courses is to learn new skills be exposed to new ideas. In this case, however, one of my fundamental thoughts about being a supervisor was challenged.

It had always been my thinking that I can and have motivated people.

It turns out, I have only paved the way.

Kris Robins, one of the facilitators of the Essential Skills for Supervisors Program through Northern Lakes College, told our Staying Positive – Rewarding and Energizing Employees class last Thursday that, as supervisors, we can only create the environment where people will be motivated, we don’t motivate people ourselves.

I have to agree when it is put that way. You can’t wave your magic wand and, presto, your employees will be motivated.

I suppose that is much like the old adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

On the other hand, Kris noted, we can de-motivate people with a single action or word.

The class was asked to cite examples of what motivates and de-motivates us.

Motivating situations include the opportunity to make a difference, having varied and challenging assignments, a sense of pride in the organization, decisive leadership, the opportunity to learn, and the ability to reach new levels of achievement.

De-motivators cited include negativity, no flexibility, minimal or no communication, lack of variety, poor direction, bureaucracy, and employees thinking in terms of their own department and not the good over the overall organization.

I believe the best employees are self-motivated and our job as managers and leaders is to fuel their fire, to nurture their growth and to give them opportunities to succeed to even greater heights than they can on their own. Essentially, we need to take steps to eliminate items on the second list from our workplaces.

Enabling employee motivation to flourish must be an ongoing effort, not something we contemplate once a month or a few times a year.

Author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar summed this up well.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend it daily.”

It was also interesting to note that many of the points cited on the de-motivator list are also factors in employee burnout.

I have been blessed with many good employees over the years, including when I operated my communications company full-time.

It is a thrill to work with people who are highly motivated. It is much like a sense of lighting a torch and then when your own torch flickers, having the employee regenerate your fire.

Working with motivated people is motivating to me!

It has always been my approach that I work with people, they don’t work FOR me. I contend that if people feel like they are stakeholders in the company, they will want the business or the organization to succeed just as much as you.

I am taking the Essential Skills Program to gain a certificate through Northern Lakes College.

There are nine components to the program, including:

Leadership – Giving Employees What They Need to Succeed
Effective Supervision – Directing, Coaching & Facilitating Employees
Communication – Getting the Message Across
Working Together – Building Effective Relationships in Your Workplace
Performance Management – Optimizing Results
Intervention – Managing Employees with Personal Problems
Resolving Conflict – Reaching Agreement at Work
Managing Time – Scheduling People, Paper & Priorities
Leadership – Giving Employees What They Need to Succeed

I’m eager to complete the program in the next few months and continue on to the advanced level. It is great to see how people from other workplaces operate and the challenges that they face. The beauty of this program is that while the facilitators provide instruction, you learn as much from others in the class.

When it comes to energizing my staff, it’s important for me to continue acquiring tools that ensure I’m providing the best environment possible – today and every day.

Part of that is providing those in my charge opportunities to thrive through their own growth opportunities.

That’s a given. I am a firm believer that when you quit learning, you quit living.


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§ 12 Responses to Motivating takes more than me.

  • Ian Roe says:

    David some interesting points here. It depends on how you interpret motivating or creating the environment as to whether you think we motivate staff or not.
    For me the most important and often overlooked point is that people cannot simply be motivated – they must be motivate to…. That is to say motivation is about doing not feeling. So to create motivated staff you have to give them something to do. Something that they can be responsible for, that they can achieve and be recognised for and something that they understand has a value within the bigger picture of the organisation.

    This stems from the organisational objectives, down through departmental objectives but ultimately each individual needs to understand what they have to achieve and why it is important

  • Kurt Nelson says:


    This is very insightful. I found the Motivating Situations to be very interesting as they aligned with a theory of motivation that I believe in – The Four Drive Model of Employee Motivation developed by Lawrence and Nohria from Harvard. The four drives are: Drive to Achieve & Acquire, Drive to Bond & Belong, Drive to be Challenged & Comprehend and the Drive to make a Difference & Defend. The theory states that these are underlying drives that we have and if you look at the Motivating Situations you listed, you can see how well they fit: “make a difference, having varied and challenging assignments, a sense of pride in the organization, decisive leadership, the opportunity to learn, and the ability to reach new levels of achievement.” I’ve written more about the Four Drive Model at

    Good stuff

  • Jim Collison says:

    Accept that no one motivates anyone else. Motivation comes from within. We do, however, create the conditions that can encourage others’ self-motivation or extinguish their self-motivation. So, how do leaders create the conditions in which self-motivation within people flourishes? First, create a workplace culture that is “employee-centered.” Where the focus is on freeing people to achieve their very best and make great things happen. A very successful regional restaurant chain founder once told me, “I don’t believe customers come first. I believe employees come first.” Second, match people with jobs and tasks that best use their talents and that challenge their ambitions. Challenges bring out the best in people. Third, share appreciation for achievements and work well done. An employee freedom culture, an appreciative culture, includes people in the workplace often saying “Thank you for a job well done” and “Thanks for your help.” Jim Collison, President, Employers of America, Inc.

  • Debbie Laskey says:

    Years ago, I worked for a lawyer who did not understand why motivating employees was necessary. After one really exhausting trial preparation project, since there were so many people on the team, I explained that a pat on the back or the words “great job” would go a long way toward employee engagement, improved morale, and dedication. I got a small smile, but nothing else. I agree with the other comments that motivation needs to come from within, but it should also come from other team members.

  • David, you are right on target. My theory has always been that motivation comes from within. There is an old line that makes so much sense – “The Teacher appears when the student is ready”.
    Lynda Robertson, Sandler Training, Mississauga, ON.

  • Glen Thomas says:

    One think I’ve done to recognize my employees is creating two “hero” cards. One is given by me to an employee who gone above and beyond, and the other is done in a kind of “pay it forward” kind of way where employees recognize each other. The recipients are able to “cash in” their cards and leave a couple of hours early on a pre-approved day of their choosing.

  • staceydp says:

    I agree with what you have written, David – but I wanted to note that I have noticed a recent focus on “genuine” conversations in the workplace as an after-thought to workplace motivation. I think it is crucial to recognize that whatever you say or do to create a motivational environment – the more genuine your approach and conversations with your employees – the more apt they’ll be to take it on.

  • Celia Sollows says:

    Nice discussion. Research also supports this perspective. Employees who rate communications with their supervisor highly are more likely to also indicate that they are as productive as they can be and that they are unlikely to look for a job anytime soon. The IABC Research Foundation has also conducted research that identifies that product and service quality depend critically on employee trust in their organization. What drives trust? Concern for employees, openness and honesty, shared goals/values/beliefs, reliability, and competence. The supervisor plays a key role in delivering the trust promise.

  • Shari Greer says:

    Great article! Motivating people in the workplace starts with the culture. If the hall is full of closed
    doors, and you never see the leaders except in crisis, it is difficult to find the motivator that cuts
    through that pattern. I have been in situations where the culture was great, and everyone was ready for
    any task, because we thought, acutally we knew, we were invincible and we were growing a company! I have
    also worked where the situation was like I described in my first sentance… you just can’t breed confidence, which elevates motivation when no one is talking to each other. There have been weeks where no one spoke to the staff – except to complain. I often wonder where these people came from when they treat
    the ‘worker bee’s like second class citizens and yet, expect them to work overtime for free, and weekends,
    because they could. It doesn’t add up and if it doens’t add up it will not be a successful business!

  • Diane says:

    One of life’s hardest lessons to learn is that you can only change yourself. – John M Grohol PsyD

    As leaders, we can work to create the right atmosphere for motivation, but the actual decision to be motivated has to come from within the employee.

  • Karin Wills says:

    I believe that the word motivation works much like the words empowerment and accountability. People sometimes make the mistake of thinking they can provide those things to others-they can’t. You can develop an environment, one where integrity, respect for people,lifelong learning and trust are considered basic values.People will choose for themselves if they recognize that they are empowered, understand that accountability is up to them and motivation comes from within. The leader can only provide the environment in which that can thrive.

  • Tonya says:

    Speaking as both a Manager and as an employee, I do agree that an individual must be ready to be motivated in order for true motivation to take place. I also believe that those in leadership have the opportunity and the obligation to “motivate by example”, just as we/they lead by example. I do motivate myself, however, working in an environment which does not foster a positive “vibe” is a very strong deterrent against motivation.

    Really good post.

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