"It's not my job to motivate my people. It's my job to create an environment where they can motivate themselves."
This is a comment made by a fellow manager quite a few years ago when my own management experience was yet in its infancy. What an odd thing to say, I remember thinking then. Surely, motivating others falls to the manager. Isn't it the most important responsibility we have?
But as the years passed by and experience filled the void, I began to see what he was saying.
Perhaps you've encountered the following when you're interacting with your team members:
*Your feedback at times just doesn't seem to be hitting the mark. *You need to return to the same developmental issue over and over again because little or poorly sustained progress is being made. *You offer up praise, raises, and acknowledgement yet the employee is still not happy. *A once engaged employee seems to be distracted, or worse, disengaged.
These are just a few examples of many that I've experienced. I remember clearly the deep feeling of frustration that came with my inability to motivate change with these employees. Frustration from the lack of responsiveness, the time wasted, the impact on my business outcomes, and my own feeling of inadequacy as a manager.
Clearly, the lack of motivation to change was a common element in these examples. But there was another.
My own approach.
In each of these cases, I approached it with my own agenda, and my own sincere feeling that I had all the answers. Rather than take the time to connect with the employee on a level meaningful to them, I made assumptions. And I fell into the advice-giving trap.
Motivation, I was learning the hard way, occurred only when I took the time to coach the employee. I'd already been "coaching" to a degree - asking open-ended questions and actively listening. I was, I felt, involving the employee through asking for their input.
But what I wasn't doing was releasing judgment. I was coming at the issue teeming with preconceptions. It wasn't until I gave myself permission to clean the judgment slate and approach the issue with curiosity that I began to see return on my time investment.
Advice-giving as my natural tendency went by the way-side. Sure, I availed of it where it was required, and sometimes it is. But it ceased to be my "go-to". This wasn't an easy thing to do, I admit. There were times when I found myself slipping into my old habits, especially when things got hectic. But in time, I became increasingly more focused on understanding the perspective and perceptions of the individual rather than my own.
The most eye-opening learning for me in making this change? More often than not, the issue as I'd pegged it was not the true issue after all. It was merely a symptom of something deeper. And it wasn't until this level of understanding was reached that meaningful change began to occur, for both my team member and myself.
Human Beings are complex creatures and truly individual. The individualized approach that effective non-judgment-based coaching provides recognizes and honours this. When you give yourself permission to engage with your team members at this level, they truly become partners with you in their own development. Trust between you heightens, because now, you are seen as a leader concerned about their agenda, not simply your own.
You are, as my former colleague suggested, now creating an environment where the motivation to change does not come from you, but from within the employees themselves.
If you find yourself frustrated by lack of progress with one of your team-members, take stock of your approach. In particular, recognize the judgments you're making and release them. In doing so, you will be on your way to creating an environment where intrinsic motivation is the norm.
Glenn Case is a Leadership, Executive and Team Coach in Vancouver, Canada.