What Bad Leaders Consistently Get Wrong About Motivation

What Bad Leaders Consistently Get Wrong About Motivation

John Eades 04/03/2021 5
What Bad Leaders Consistently Get Wrong About Motivation

One of your team members is disengaged at work. What do you do as a leader?

Do you let it slide because of the Pandemic? Do you say something immediately, or do you wait a few weeks? Do you give them time off in hopes they rekindle the fire? 

The answer to these questions all relates to truly understanding motivation, but probably not in the way you're thinking.

Most leaders think of motivation as something people should have all the time. In reality, motivation is someone's willingness to do something that fluctuates over time. Researchers define motivation as a reason for actions, willingness, and goals. The word is derived from the word motive or a need that requires satisfaction.

As simple as this definition is, the layers of complexity behind being and staying motivated are more complicated than most people realize. Organizational leaders need to be aware of this because part of their job is related to helping others be and stay motivated. Dwight D. Eisenhower said it well: "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done, because he wants to do it."   Leadership requires getting to someone's heart, while management only requires leveraging authority. 

Even though there are sentiments of coercion in Eisenhower's definition, the statement holds truth. Because leadership requires getting to someone's heart, while management only requires leveraging authority.   

What Bad Leaders Get Wrong About Motivation

One of the surprising things about motivation is that each person can be motivated by different things. Those motivations can also shift as needs are met, or as situations change. James Clear provides some great ideas about the Science of Motivation.

However, bad leaders fail to recognize this. Bad leaders move forward under the assumption that their team is motivated by the same goals, failing to recognize their differences.  Bad leaders assume that others are motivated by the same things they are motivated by.  

In the for-profit business world, this often manifests itself in the carrot that is money. Now before you go thinking I will bash financial returns as a lousy motivator, stop yourself. Finances are one of the common motivators for professionals, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, money is not the only one. Part of your job as a leader is to understand what I call a "Prime Motivation" for each team member. Some of the other "Prime Motivators" outside of financial rewards include: Praise from Others, Being Challenged or Solving Tough Problems, Being Heard or Known, Helping Others' Have Success.


How to Properly Help Motivate Team Members

As a leader, you are responsible for energizing your team and helping them become motivated to be at their best. The good news is that boosting your employees' enthusiasm isn't necessarily as hard -- or time-consuming -- as you might expect. 

1. Connect Them to a Deeper Cause

What I have found in my work helping leaders from different industries is we are most inspired by our impact on other people. We will work harder and longer and better—and feel happier about the work we are doing—when we know that someone else is benefiting from our efforts.

So the fastest and most effective path to helping motivate people on a daily basis is by connecting them to the deeper cause behind their work. Even the most repetitive jobs and tasks, when tied to a deeper cause, can be incredibly motivating and rewarding.  

If you have never done this exercise before or if your primary target has solely been a revenue number at the end of the year, I would ask yourself this simple question:

How do you help improve the lives of others who are positively impacted by your team's effort?

The answer to this question gets to the root of the deeper cause behind your team's work.

2. Provide a Maximizing Mantra

Mantras may only be a few words long, but they can have a powerful motivating impact. After studying great leaders in different industries, it's clear they tap into their power to help motivate their team. I refer to these in Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success as "Maximizing Mantras." A maximizing mantra provides energy to the team even before you achieve the results. With just a few words, you create the inspirational drive that helps inspire future successes.

One of the most recent (and well-known) maximizing mantras was college football coach P.J. Fleck's "Row the Boat," which helped bring the previously overlooked Western Michigan football team into the limelight with a winning record and a spot in the 2017 Cotton Bowl. The mantra has come to define the coach and his teams, even after moving to a new job at the University of Minnesota.

In an interview with MLive, Fleck explained that the mantra referred to three parts: the oar, which provided the energy, the boat, which represented the sacrifices that team members, administration, and fans were willing to make for the program, and finally, the compass, which symbolized the direction the team wanted to go. Combining all these ideas into a single phrase served as a powerful motivator for the team.

When you find short, simple phrases that encapsulate big ideas, you can quickly inspire your team to work harder and with more intensity than they've ever had before.

3. Encourage Them to Pursue Things Outside of the Workplace

The most controversial way to motivate a team member is to encourage them to pursue ambitions and goals outside of work that is in alignment with their prime motivator. We are in a brand new era of work, where in most industries outside of the manufacturing space, work can be completed anywhere and anytime.  

Instead of acting like the job someone is doing as a part of your team or organization is the only thing on the planet, take the opposite mindset. Encourage them to pursue fitness goals, side hustles, or family passions. Things like running a marathon, starting an eCommerce business, or coaching a kids soccer team.  

Not only will your people appreciate the fact that you are with the times, but they will also develop confidence and skills by pursuing passions outside of work that will help them do their job more efficiently and effectively. 


These ideas and strategies are just the tip of the iceberg as it relates to motivation. The fact you are thinking about and are concerned about adequately motivating yourself and others in ways beyond cracking the whip or just throwing more money at the problem places you far ahead of the competition.  

Energizing and motivating your team isn't something that consistently happens in strategy meetings or a brief virtual encounter on Zoom or Slack. It’s best done in arranged one-on-one coaching sessions dedicated to understanding each person and their goals on a deeper level. By taking a little time out of your schedule to use these unique motivational tactics, you can give your team the drive they need to succeed.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades

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  • Alice Waterfield

    There is a big difference between a bad leader and a good leader. Thanks for the explanation.

  • Sophie Gordon

    My boss acts like he is the owner of the company playing favouritism with his other underlings.

  • Matt Stroud

    The best leaders just tend to get stuff done with no hard feelings and drama.

  • Liam Clarke

    A true leader has reasonable expectations, favours open conversation, respects engagement & teamwork and give honest feedback, leading by example.

  • Scott Duffy

    This was very helpful.

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John Eades

Leadership Expert

John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College. 

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