Leaders cannot motivate employees. Period.

The most common question that I am asked when I facilitate leadership development programs is, “Gary, how do I motivate my employees?”.

The idea that a leader can motivate their employees is flawed. I cannot motivate you and you cannot motivate your employees. I cannot take my motivation and give it to you so that you can be motivated, just as you cannot take your motivation and give it to your employees so that they are motivated. Motivation is not a ‘thing’ that can be extracted, given, taken, passed on or any other action from one person to another.

Business group showing teamworkIf you are reading this article then it is because of your own motivation, not someone else’s. Even if someone put this article in front of you and demanded you read it, you could choose not to read it. Even if they held a gun to your head and said, “Read it out aloud”, you could easily read it out aloud but not take in this article.

Motivation is intrinsic. Period. Each of us, including your employees is 100% self-motivated. This is critical for leaders to understand. It is not your responsibility to motivate anybody other than yourself. Likewise it is your employees’ responsibility to motivate themselves. If you attempt to take this responsibility away from your employees then you will create a false dependency that is unsustainable.

What can leaders do?

A leader’s job is to create the conditions, to the best of her ability to enable employees to be self-motivated. They must also do everything they can to end the conditions that foster a lack of motivation in employees. They must also do everything they can to end the conditions that foster a lack of motivation in employees. What are the factors that are reducing an employee’s capacity to be self-motivated? Is it that they aren’t being paid fairly? Is it that they are being micro-managed? Is it that they aren’t being recognised for doing a good day’s work? Is it the fact that they don’t have an opportunity to develop themselves? Leaders must also talk and act in ways that support this concept to make sure that their employees are 100 responsible for their own motivation.

To enable employees to be self-motivated leaders must know what drives their employees. They must help their employees to see the alignment between their personal goals and the organisation’s goals. Maybe the alignment will come from the money they earn which allows them to continue to invest in their passion for motorbikes. Maybe the alignment will come through the opportunities that the workplace can offer that will allow the employee to progress their career or maybe the alignment will come from the employee being able to get access to time off work to attend a course they had really wanted to attend but is only offered during ‘normal’ working hours. These are just a few of the endless possibilities that relate to how a leader can create the conditions for their employees to be self-motivated.

What are you doing to enhance the self-motivation of your employees?

Gary Ryan enables organisations, leaders and talented professionals to move Beyond Being Good.