• Ian Gregory


Motivation is something that most everyone agrees is important and yet it is usually one of the least understood aspects of leadership. You should be using motivation to grow individuals, teams and ultimately organizations. If you are chasing excellence, like we teach that you should, then you have to realize that motivation is a shared responsibility and has to be cultivated and grown, just like any other skill.

All too often, we don’t properly equip our leaders with the skills to lead themselves, let alone other individuals and teams. Motivation is one of those skills that are most overlooked and the result is that motivation looks and feels like intimidation and threats. So, how do we get it so wrong? More importantly, what do we need to do to get it right?

Let’s make it simple: Leadership is about relationships, period. Growing relationships and increasing motivation will always be easier if leadership encourages and holds employees accountable for these three things (which, by the way, studies show that employees want most in their jobs):

Autonomy - being trusted enough to work independently

Mastery - not just being able to do the job but being able to troubleshoot the job and anticipate problems

Purpose - knowing and agreeing with the reason that you are pushing for excellence.

Encouraging and even holding your employees responsible for those three things will help you establish a culture that is interested in pushing for excellence.

There are also four separate levels of motivation, and leaders must understand the differences and what their responsibilities are within each level. The four levels are Compliance, Willpower, Imagination and Habit. Each level requires a different response and blows a hole in the old leadership teachings that every employee should be treated equally. Check out the four levels below:

1. Compliance: Doing what you are told. Primarily for new employees but also anytime a new process, procedure or rule is being implemented. From a leadership standpoint it is important that you are clear and concise in your instructions, that you establish an order of importance (most commonly overlooked ingredient in motivation), and that you spend time with the employees to make sure that they have goals set, with timelines so that growth and proficiency can be measured and congratulated. This is the most time intensive level from a leadership standpoint, but it is also the most important for the organization as it establishes a baseline for expectations for every new employee.

2. Willpower: Doing what you want to do. This is for employees that are comfortable with the work routine, have gained a measure of proficiency in their job, and are starting to show some pride in the product they are putting out. Leaders in this scenario should still be in the encouraging and teaching mode, while recognizing the proficiency gained. They should also be resetting some of the goals to allow a measure of independence and one on one meetings with the employee should include plans for the future and employee direction.

3. Imagination: Doing what you want to do because you feel like it. This is a crucial time for both employee and leadership. From an employee standpoint they have gained proficiency, confidence, have shown potential with independent tasks and are looking for direction in their future plans. Leadership must recognize these benchmarks in certain employees, confirm them in one on one meetings, and start to help the employee paint the picture of what their future will look like within the organization. Imagination is one of the more powerful motivators because we start to tie positive emotions to our actions and if encouraged and properly trained, our employees start to view excellence as a part of who they are and what they do.

4. Habit: Doing what comes naturally. When an employee exudes excellence in everything from attitude to relationships to work produced, it is a result. Many people might call that talent and we would agree with you, the difference is the habitual talent will out work, out think and out grow any natural talent that has not been educated, trained, encouraged and grown. For leadership, this one is pretty easy. This is a future leader and until that happens, the goal is continued growth with bigger and more complicated assignments and moving the employee into a mentoring role.

Motivation is influencing and inspiring people to action because they want to act. The last part of that means that alone, a leader cannot motivate. It must be a partnership, a cooperative effort and then both for the organization and the individual, the sky really is the limit.