How Leaders Great Motivate Their Teams


Ideas about how to treat employees, how to achieve optimum productivity levels and how to reduce turnover have changed from a once authoritative system to an increasing laissez-faire style of management in many industries. While for many working in production line environments systems might not have changed much, in many office settings people have far more autonomy than ever before. For some, this is a welcome change, while for others they are left floundering unsure of how to perform without oversight.

What research has indicated is that there is no single answer for how to lead a team and that a successful leader is a subjective term. One study suggests that what motivates people is not the leader themselves, but the positive reinforcement that they offer.

Positive emotions are our driving force. Simply, we do what feels good. Therefore, managers need to understand what motivates the individuals in their team. The role of a leader today is to know about human connection, understand the psychology of their team, and work with the findings to ensure that they can elicit the best response from their team.

To do just that, we’ve devised an 8 step guide to help leaders better understand their team members and improve relationships, productivity and retention rates.

  1. More one on one time.

You need to consistently communicate clear goals and expectations to make them an operational reality. You do that through one-on-one conversations. Leaders thrive when they strengthen relationships with their people by spending more one-on-one time with them to hear their suggestions, ideas, problems and issues as well as talking about performance issues and their work. Planning to spend time on a regular basis with staff so that they can talk and share concerns or learn more about their role ensures people are engaged and feel important.

  1. Find out what motivates them.

Do you really know your team members? What they are passionate about – their goals, aspirations, and interests? Great leaders show an interest in their people’s jobs and career aspirations to motivate them the right way. Once that’s been established, they look into the future to create learning and development opportunities for their people. They find out what motivates their best people by getting to know what desires will drive each team member. This is about emotional engagement.

  1. Provide the resources they need to do their work.

By asking what do you need right now to do your job better? You will find that your productivity levels will often improve almost instantly. Sometimes it is possible to overlook the simple things that could change a person’s ability to perform better, such as a software update or even a new office chair. Some people need quiet and space to work, while others love the hustle and bustle of an office environment, by listening and making compromises you can find solutions.

  1. Praise and compliment them often.

Managers have to get into the habit of praising and complimenting their people for their good qualities and work. The companies in Gallup’s study with the highest engagement levels use recognition and praise as a powerful motivator. They found that employees who receive praise on a regular basis increase their individual productivity, receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers, and are more likely to stay with their organization. You should be commenting on your staff’s individual accomplishments once a week.

  1. Help co-create purposeful work.

People want meaning and purpose in their work. In the book Give and Take, Wharton professor Adam Grant says that when people find purpose in their work, it not only improves that person’s happiness, it also boosts productivity. While for many industries and job roles this can be difficult, if you can show your team examples of how their work translates in the ‘real’ world, it can add to that sense of accomplishment.

  1. Help them develop new skills.

Always learning, and not just for the role that you are in, is a great way to keep your mind active and your motivation high – so why not offer your team the chance to learn too? The learning does not need not be job-related, it could be something in a different field that the person could use to leverage their position later in their career. It could even be simply learning more about the business and industry overall – just offer those opportunities.

  1. Actively involve teams.

Great managers recognize that leadership doesn’t travel one way but is multi-directional. While it can come from the top down at critical times, the best scenario is allowing decisions, information, and delegation to travel from peer-to-peer or from the bottom up, where the collective wisdom and involvement of the whole team help solve real issues in real-time on the frontlines.

  1. Believe in your team.

The best managers delegate often and make their employees responsible for delivering challenging work. If this doesn’t happen in your workplace, consider two hard questions:

  • Do you trust your knowledge workers to do what they’ve been hired to do?
  • Do they have the right competence for the job to carry out the work with confidence?

So often managers underestimate the potential and ability of their employees. If you don’t trust the people you work with to know their job and to do it well, none of the other steps matter. If you don’t trust because your team is incompetent, you need to train them – if it is because you are micromanaging, you need to learn a new approach.

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