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How do you motivate your employees? Do you demand, cajole, threaten, plead? Or do you use the carrot-and-stick approach—reward success and punish failure?

None of these approaches works. That is, none of them will work for every employee or for any employee for very long. More importantly, none creates the kind of workplace experience today’s employees seek.

motivation man flyingnsic motivation.

Research from the past decade has uncovered what great leaders do to create a workplace environment that motivates. Among the discoveries of the most contemporary thought leaders is the importance of setting goals for employees that stretch their abilities.

If you’ve hired wisely, your employees want to do good work and grow to do great work. Your job as a leader is to direct that intrinsic motivation toward achievable goals in alignment with your organization’s objectives.

How to set smart stretch goals

No intelligent employee feels motivated when asked to achieve something they do not believe can be reached. Setting achievable goals that stretch your employees requires an understanding of not only what they can achieve but what they believe they can achieve.

To find this achievement sweet spot, if you will, begin by engaging your employees in an exploration of what they think they can accomplish. Ask how they could stretch themselves just a bit more. Also, ask what else they can do to move a little more outside of their comfort zone. Then back up their confidence in themselves with your confidence in them.

Leadership Intimacy demands at this point that you know what each of your employees is capable of accomplishing. Encourage them to stretch, but don’t set them up for failure by letting them reach to far. Don’t shortchange their personal development by discouraging them to reach far enough. In short, make sure the goals you set together are realistic.

To do this, benchmark what other teams in your and other organizations are doing. Set goals that inspire wins and leadership in your field. Identify peak performers and make a positive example of them.

Then let your employees go. Focus on your role as a leader. Create vision and direction. Establish a clear line of sight between each person’s work and the vision they as a team have created for the themselves and the organization. Constantly and continually talk about and remind everyone of the vision and direction.

Once they’re on their way, follow up and follow through. Keep them on course all the way to the goal line. Rather than help them with their assignments and the tasks they need to accomplish, do your part by improving processes and encouraging others to do the same. Plan for setbacks, find ways around bureaucracy, and establish systems that will help your vision become reality.

Most of all, be there to support the achievement of their goals. Take notice, compliment effort, guide and redirect where necessary. When success has been achieved, celebrate and reward in big ways. In the ways each team member wants to be recognized. That’s Leadership Intimacy—that’s motivating.


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Helanie Scott
Helanie Scott
Helanie (pronounced yeh-LAH-nee) Scott, CEO and founder of Align4Profit in Dallas, Texas, has driven stunning leadership and cultural transformations for an impressive list of organizations. She has mastered the ability to connect with her audiences in the boardroom, classroom, on stage, or in one-on-one coaching sessions. Helanie’s Align4Profit clients rave at the way her engaging programs freshen outdated mindsets and deliver results-oriented, aligned action.

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