In almost every workshop, consulting engagement, or coaching interaction, I get some form of the question “how do I motivate others?” Leaders and managers want other people to change their behavior or do something different, but they simply get tired of making them change. It’s exhausting to keep telling people things over and over and feel like you were ignored, dismissed, or not heard. So, the question is a common one. But it’s the wrong question to ask. You cannot motivate others, only they can motivate themselves. What you can do as a leader is set up all the necessary ingredients for motivation and then help others discover the path that leads to their own motivation. So a better question would be “what drives motivation?” Let’s look at some of the necessary components for helping others find their motivation to do something different.
There is no motivation without a reason to be motivated. If we don’t want anything different, we won’t do anything different. Sometimes we simply haven’t taken the time to consider the possibilities that a different future holds or we get complacent because things aren’t that bad. There’s nothing wrong with being satisfied with where we are and what we have. Most people though, once they’ve considered a different future, a different outcome, a different level of satisfaction or impact, tend to want to move toward it. The key is to help others create that consideration. Simply asking others where they want to be, how their job or their life or their situation might be more amazing, or what is possible for their future starts the process of evaluating the new destination and creating a possible path toward it. If any individual on your team or in your world doesn’t have clearly defined goals, there is no possibility of motivation. Helping them consider and build a picture of a different and more successful future starts the motivation engine.
One of the biggest motivation killers is our own perception of reality. The first thing many of us do right after we set a big goal or create a desire for something different is tell ourselves that’s not possible, or we can’t get there, or even worse there are 10 or 50 or 1000 things we have to do first before that new goal is possible. This kills motivation momentum instantly. Our job as leaders is to help others make a few early steps in the direction of their goals. In the face of progress, our perception of what’s possible begins to shift. If I think I can’t do something, and you help me take a step toward it, I begin to think maybe I can. Movement creates momentum. Leaders can help create movement. Asking good questions like “what’s a good first step?” “how can I help?” or “when can we make that happen?” force others to think about the answers and that creates a different reality. One where progress happens and momentum follows.
The moment we define a goal as unattainable, we cease moving toward it. The one thing that makes us question our lack of confidence is the confidence others have in us. Our job as an influencer in the lives of others is to help them understand our view of their potential, not adopt their view of it. If we believe a person has the potential to accomplish more and we communicate that, consistently, effectively and with clarity, we can break through their own hardened picture of what they are capable of and help them form a new picture of who they are and what they can accomplish. As leaders, if we have done our work to become one, we know how to build influence with our team. When someone who wields influence with us tells us we are capable of more, we begin to consider the possibility that we are selling ourselves short. That’s the first step to creating that new definition of success for ourselves and accepting the reality that the goals we have set may take time and effort, but that we can achieve them. It also helps when we know there is someone we trust there to help us, guide us, support us, and push us. Most people don’t like to go on a challenging journey alone with their thoughts of self doubt.
So the truth is that we can’t motivate others. We can however become leaders who routinely support others as they build the framework and the confidence for their own motivation. Interactions matter. Interactions with influential leaders can change how we think about our future, our abilities and our possibilities. That’s what leaders do. That’s why leaders matter in our business and in our world.
Leading Through Influence
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