Are you motivating the right way?

Careful words can be a considerable catalyst.

Are you motivating the right way?

No company will ever suffer from too much motivation. Motivational leadership is essential not only to boost spirits but to help others realize shared goals. Yet it’s not always easy to strike the right tone when attempting to excite team members. In the worst cases, botched motivation attempts can leave employees more disengaged than before.

The design of successful motivation techniques was at the heart of the speech delivered by celebrated keynote speaker Ryan Avery at the 2021 MDRT Annual Meeting Virtual Event.

“It is one of my strongest beliefs that when we're motivating people … it is the little things that make a big difference,” he said. “By definition, the word motivation means moving someone to action. It's a Latin prefix that stems from the word motive, which means to move. In Latin, the suffix “ation” means to take action.”

Below are some of the most common nuances that Avery said distinguish effective motivational efforts from less stellar versions.

Triangles vs. circles

Sometimes motivation, or the absence of motivation, extends beyond the reach of a particular leader and can be generated by the organization as a whole. Triangular business models are hierarchical, with smaller levels of bosses stacked on top of one another until reaching a point where only one person remains at the top, delegating orders downward to everyone else. As with empires, decision-makers are removed from the reality of rank-and-file employees, who are expected to maintain rigid work routines. Some admittedly thrive under this setup, while others are stifled and disaffected.

Circular businesses are modeled closer to communities, where everyone relies on one another in some fashion. Rather than relying on exacting schedules and traditional markers of intelligence and achievement, circular businesses are more likely to adapt to changing working conditions and recruit useful employees from nontraditional paths.

But, unlike the following examples, Avery suggests neither model is intrinsically better than the other. Rather, he advocates for a blend of the two.

Bringing people up vs. building people up

Where the circular-community model does tend to outperform the triangular-empire model is in succession. Because of the stronger culture of collaboration, circular organizations can weather departures more easily than triangular ones. Managers in triangular businesses, even those with the best intentions, will only bring people up – i.e., groom them with a minimum of training apart from the essential job functions.  

“I've seen so many companies and teams crumble when a leader goes away. They felt like they were doing good, but what they really did was bring their people up,” Avery said. “They didn't build their people up.”

Building people entails a sharper focus on skills development instead of title acquisition or authority dispersion. A team of built-up employees can better compensate for losses because everyone understands the different functions of each role, and to an extent, can perform the work of others independently, or work around missing employees.

But a team of built-up employees can also thrive in times without absences. The cross-training that occurs motivates everyone to ideate creative, practical, universal solutions for the community.   

Purpose vs. passion

Following your passions can be like flexing a muscle. You can produce great momentary results but cannot sustain the same intensity for long periods of time. “By definition, the word passion means a barely controllable emotion,” Avery said.

Another reason passions are unsustainable is because they are often tied to fleeting goals. In fact, Avery said, realizing passions can feel as undesirable as unfulfilled passions.

“There have been multiple times in my life where I have gone after something big and after I accomplished it, I felt empty,” he said. “I didn't feel fulfilled like I thought I would. I felt filled, but not fulfilled.”

Purpose, on the other hand, centers on personal and relationship development rather than outside validation. Examples of purpose-driven goals include being a good parent or spouse or affecting positive change in one’s community through their work. By working toward their self-realized purpose, Avery said, people can achieve deeper levels of fulfillment. 

“It's one of my strongest beliefs, too, that the reason why so many people are unhappy is because we've been fed this lie to be passionate,” Avery said. “Purpose is something that we're rooted in. Hiring people, teaching people, reminding people of what our purpose is; we'll recruit, retain, and we'll motivate the right types of people.”

Opinion vs. feedback

Some of the most dramatic examples of proper communication can be seen when giving criticism. To Avery, opinions are observations without any explanations, while feedback is observations that come with a ‘how’ and ‘why’ attached. In other words, opinions contain no specific critique, just general declarations, while feedback is broken down into smaller thoughts that went into a conclusion.

Using this definition, feedback is obviously a far more valuable communication style, as it contains information that can be acted on. It’s one thing to tell employees their performance needs improvement, and another to map out all the areas that require improvement and provide actionable steps to move forward. Providing feedback is far more likely to produce positive outcomes than providing only opinions.

How to tell great stories (and why)

Often, great lessons can be delivered in the form of story. Nothing gets a message across as clearly as a great story told effectively, a goal which Avery says is within everyone’s reach. 

“This isn't a natural ability or a talent that some people have,” Avery said. “This is a skill. This is a strategy that we can learn and have access to.”

Avery structures his most powerful stories around what he calls the three F’s: fear, family and failure. Why? Because they are themes that are central to human experience, no matter how different our backgrounds.

“Every single person in the world has these three things in common,” Avery said. “When you share stories around fears, family or failures, you instantly build relatability with everyone that you’re talking to.”