Employee Motivation is Not Rocket Science


When asked to identify his strength as a leader, Steve responded, “I’m a motivator.”

“How do you motivate your team?” I asked.

“I encourage my employees to push themselves.  I tell them how important their jobs are. I applaud their efforts. I’m always trying to build them up.”

“How is that working for you?”

“I think it works pretty well.  Not everyone responds the way I would like but I keep encouraging them.  I think most appreciate my efforts.”

Employees said they liked working for Steve.  They described him as “helpful,” “energetic,” and “caring.”

I applaud the efforts of leaders like Steve, and I’m confident that most employees would appreciate working for him.  However, I think a highly motivated work team also requires two additional ingredients.

One, employees’ motors need to be running when they come to work.  It is near impossible to kick-start a low-energy employee into spirited performance.

Second, employees’ must have the natural talents and acquired skills to perform the tasks well.  Long-term commitment to a job requires earned pride that comes only from doing something well.

When these two elements are present, Steve’s methods work great.  If one or both are missing, Steve’s well-meaning approach will likely whiff on motivation.

Why Fans Boo Referees But Not Players


It’s the opening game of the season.  The receiver for the home team takes the kickoff in the end zone and fearlessly charges up field.

The standing crowd claps and cheers as the under-sized scat-back flattens three defenders on his way to the fifteen-yard line.  Spectators continue to roar.

Why?  The youngster made a bad decision that cost the team five yards.  If the receiver had downed the ball in the end zone, his team would have begun play on the twenty-yard line.

The crowd cheered because the youngster gave a heck of an effort, even though the result was less than desired.  Fans and coaches know that fan approval motivates the team to continue striving during broken plays, fumbles and interceptions.

During the game, players (and coaches) make many mistakes; but fans seldom boo their home team.  (By contrast, referees make very few mistakes and fans frequently yell bad words at the refs.)

Some days stuff happens.  When stress and blood pressure rises, it is tempting for leaders to show their displeasure (“boo”) to employees.  But this may be just the time that a loud cheer for “effort” is more beneficial.