How Successful People Motivate Their Teams


How Successful People Motivate Their Teams

Three tools that the greats use to get people behind them. 

Anyone who has served in a leadership role has struggled with getting his or her team motivated. The task of uniting a lot of different people around the same goal is tough, even for experienced leaders.

The best leaders deal with this by leaning into their strengths. If you’re in charge of a team, you’re like an actor playing the role of a boss, you must have a firm grasp on your character in order to convince the people around you. Here are three models of leadership that successful leaders should adopt in order to get things done.

1) Visionaries

Successful leaders often derive their charisma from their ability to communicate new and exciting visions of the future. This model of leadership is about being a futurist, someone who can see what others can’t yet perceive, and who can get his or her team excited to move toward that new horizon.

The paradigmatic example of a visionary leader is Steve Jobs. His work at Apple was consistently driven by a firm, coherent vision of what electronic products should look like, do, and be, and – especially – what role they should play in consumers’ lives.

Brian Borchard, a product marketing engineer on the first iPhone, gave a good example of how Jobs’ visionary leadership worked in practice.

“The challenge Steve laid out for us when we created the iPhone wasn’t to make a touch-screen device that would play apps and do all of this stuff,” Borchard said. “His [charge] was simple. He wanted to create the first phone that people would fall in love with. That’s what he told us.”

“Now if you’re an engineer, like I am by training, you’re like ‘what the heck does that mean?'” he said. “But he was right.”

Jobs’ big-picture vision was confusing, but useful: His team was always able to structure their own practical and tactical work around Jobs’ end goal of reaching consumers on an emotional level.

2) Experts

One 2013 poll shows that over 84 percent of workers believe they could do their managers’ jobs, and 76 percent of those polled could list specific improvements they’d make in their manager’s place. On the other hand, when workers were asked if they believed their managers could successfully trade places with them, positive responses dropped to almost nothing.

In other words – the perception of ignorance is one of the chief obstacles any leader has to overcome.

Leaders who take the “expert” role do this by proving their grasp of the business in a practical way, on a daily basis. For example, getting involved in daily work to demonstrate their competence, and dealing with formidable projects like an all-night coding session by doing the work with their team, rather than standing above the team and giving orders.

This style of leadership is particularly popular and effective in early-stage startups. Not only do leaders like Mark Zuckerberg often tend to be young, and therefore lacking in credentials, the startups themselves often tend to be lacking in revenue in the early stages of their growth. To truly get a team behind a project that hasn’t started to make money, you’ve got to convince them that you know what you’re doing.

3) Role Models

This type of leader works best in values-based organizations, but is usually appreciated across the board. Their pull is ideological and behavioral, like the visionary, they have a dream of how the world, and the company, should work. However they don’t merely explain it to their teams, they live it in practice.

Consider Nelson Mandela. As a young man, he was an activist in a country that was sharply divided by apartheid and violence. The people of South Africa essentially lived in a state of civil war, and no-one believed the war would or could end.

Mandela succeeded at the nearly-impossible task of holding that country together after apartheid was abolished, when everyone expected that it would explode into yet more violence. He did this not just with his policies, but with his actions, he publicly and privately demonstrated that he was able to forge strong relationships on both sides of the divide, and behave fairly to all of the citizens he governed. Because it was possible for Mandela, the people of South Africa believed it was possible for them, too.

Very few of us will accomplish something as great as Mandela. But his example of inspiration by living values is a good one – if you are in charge, everyone in that company is going to try to impress you. This means your choices, even subtle ones, will be picked up and mirrored by your team. Leaders who are role models unite their teams by inspiring them to be their best selves.

Reprinted by permission.

Photo Credit: by CC Dave Partners

About the author: Dave Partners

Dave Partners, LLC is a premier executive search and advisory firm that is committed to exceeding client expectations. We work with entrepreneurs, founders, boards and executive teams who believe that building a great company means attracting and keeping enough of the right people—and that this is more important than markets, technology, competition or products.

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