(Enjoy this guest post by David M. Dye, a member of the #LeadWithGiantsCommunity)
It’s in the top three.
If you were to attend my leadership workshops, you’d see me ask leaders to identify their own learning objectives.
Without fail, one item rises to the top.
“How do I motivate my team?”
The question comes in a rainbow of flavors: How can I get my team to…
- Be more productive?
- Solve more problems?
- Be more creative?
- Get things done?
If you’re like most leaders, you’ve asked this question in one or more of its many flavors.
Early in my career, my version was, “How do I make people change?”
I went on an extended search, asked mentors, read everything I could find, and ultimately found an answer in the last place I would have thought to look.
Have you ever seen something so beautiful that it physically hurts?
The National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. does that to me.
It houses some of the world’s most stunning bonsai trees. Among the living works of art (including a 389-year-old Japanese White Pine that survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb) are Satsuki Azaleas.
I’ve included a picture of a spectacular azalea with its foliage and then in full bloom.
Look at the photograph of the azalea with leaves. If you received that plant in January, how would you motivate it to bloom in May?
If you tried to answer the question, you probably suggested giving the azalea a good soil mixture, plenty of sun and water, and perhaps a little pruning.
If you laughed or were confused by the question, it’s okay. The idea of motivating a plant to bloom doesn’t make much sense.
Plants don’t bloom because you want them to.
They don’t bloom because you ask them to.
Plants don’t attend motivational seminars.
Plants bloom when they’re healthy and conditions are right, because that’s what plants do.
If you want your leafy azalea to be covered in spectacular pink blossoms, you don’t motivate, you cultivate.
The Great Motivation Hoax
When leaders ask me, “How can I motivate my team?” my answer is simple:
Despite a glut of motivational posters, speakers, and seminars, the hard truth is that you don’t hold the key to your team’s motivation.
Motivation comes from inside a person. External motivation is a hoax. Your people will always choose what makes the most sense to them.
In short, you cannot motivate…
But, you can cultivate.
Bring Out the Best
You cultivate a healthy environment for plants when you give them the nutrients they need and guard them against disease and insects.
In the same way, your job as a leader is to create an environment that allows your people to express their strengths in a way that contributes to the team and to results.
Here are examples you can use to cultivate (not motivate) a team at work:
Focus on strength
A pine tree doesn’t have a “blossom weakness”. It just has other strengths. When you add people to the team, focus on their strength.
What does success look like? People focus when they know where they’re going.
Connect the “what” to the “why”
Why do you and your team do what you do? People will unleash amazing energy when their work is connected to meaningful purpose.
Protect from disease
As with plants, sometimes you need to prune your team to keep it healthy. Protect your team against corruption, poor performance, and negativity.
Add to the list: How do you cultivate an environment that brings out the best in your team?