Every mentally/emotionally healthy human being has a spark within them. But that spark’s intensity varies for many reasons. The fire burns brighter in good times, when we are happier. The flame can diminish to just an ember when times are challenging or our resilience is down. That’s life. But the spark is always there to be rekindled.
Many people—including your team members— may have yet to learn how to fan their own flame; that’s still not widely taught. If you are reading this article, you are in a great position to inspire increased interest in those around you. But, first, of course, you personally need to have a higher degree of energy, or passion, if you will, for the work you’ve chosen to do.
Let’s talk about a few additional factors about energizing your workforce before expanding on some key specific energy-boosting subject areas. First, think about the internal spark, large or small, about any given task or topic, as being the motivational drive from within. You, therefore, can’t “motivate” anyone as that is an internal job. What you can do is inspire or invite others to get in touch with their own innate interest. In order to meet your staff where they are before leading them to where you want them to be, you need to understand them. Studying their behavior style or personality type through a four-quadrant model or the more complex Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a good start. Raising your emotional intelligence (EQ) of self awareness, self-management, social awareness, and managing relationships will help you to tune into team members and also model these skills and insights for their own usage.
With these foundational pieces strengthened, you can be more adept at using the following tools:
EMPATHIZE: Empathy is relating to others, particularly others’ emotional states. Empathizing is especially related to another’s problem areas. Let’s be honest: Many managers are task oriented to the exclusion of accepting that, like it or not, we are always in a state of some emotion. That is a bio-chemical truth. Not allowing for people’s emotions is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is simply counterproductive.
So what does empathy have to do with inviting out the fire within someone? Well, until you uncover what is blocking the interest in participating fully, the enthusiasm level will remain low. Work to uncover the things that are dampening enthusiasm. Find ways of relating to these concern areas. You don’t have to agree with or even understand what is going on for someone to empathize with his or her circumstances. You just need to know that these exist and accept that the condition(s) is true for him or her. When you actively empathize, the other realizes he or she is not alone in this, and you become an ally. That is a powerful place to begin in turning an attitude around.
INSPIRE: As noted above, everyone has a spark within. The truth is that we have many, many sparks or varying places of interest. A team member’s particular set of interests is what makes each and every one of them unique. That is both the challenge and opportunity. There are many ways to gain the information about what lights up anyone’s interest level. Here’s just one approach:
You have limited time, resources, and energy, while your team members have the answers to the question of what interests them. So stop guessing. Ask them directly. And when you ask, steer them toward pathways to added internal motivation that you can offer in support.
The following is a list of motivational areas that can be of interest to your employees. My suggestion is that you copy and paste only the areas over which you have control (budget, resources, etc.). Create your own doable list and give it to your team members, letting them pick and choose the ones that agree with them. Guessing is over as they tell you what jazzes them.
- Status/Prestige/Stand Out/Reputation
- Task Accomplishment/Problem-Solving/Achievement
Once you find the topic areas that light up any individual player, you can come up with myriad specific strategies to fulfill that motivating topic.
DELEGATE: Delegation and the motivator checklist above can go hand in hand. While there are many do’s and don’ts about delegating, let’s focus here on the benefits to the employee. For best energizing effects, you need to match things you can delegate with what the employee will want to do (otherwise it will be demotivating/de-energizing). What long-term tasks (along with the authority and resources to support their success) can you assign that will fulfill some of the areas captured in the motivator checklist? Have an exploratory conversation with your team member (don’t ever assume you are guessing right). Since you are ultimately responsible for the work he or she does, it just makes sense that you are in harmony with each other. Win-win equals higher energy!
CATCH PEOPLE DOING SOMETHING RIGHT: Too many managers spend too much time catching people doing something wrong. Of course, you have to address problems and correct failures, but there needs to be a balance of positive and negative coming at someone for him or her to be or remain energized. I suggest using three levels of positive feedback to raise esteem or energy, each used based on timing, degree of right actions to be reinforced, and the individual’s personality:
- Praise: This is short, positive, and general. “Good Job!” “Nice Going!” “Well Done!” People feel good (energized) when receiving these words of praise.
- Acknowledgment: This is positive feedback telling your team member what specific behaviors were done well. “Rachel, you ran that meeting well. Your time management was superb. You engaged everyone in attendance and gave them positive feedback after each of their comments. And I also know that you ran through each item on the agenda thoroughly and effectively.” Acknowledging encourages doing these same things effectively again.
- Appreciation: This attends to the inner qualities or character traits that were exhibited when doing the activities mentioned in “acknowledgment.” “Rachel, you truly seemed to care when people spoke up. You were attentive to time, receptive to new ideas, and found ways of balancing people’s interest in the subjects with knowing you had lots of business to cover.”
Using all three when appropriate is another set of tools to bring positivity to people. Humans are energized when treated this way, especially on a regular basis.
PLAY: We can get so darned serious at work and lose sight of enjoying ourselves. The fact that 83 percent of people surveyed don’t want to go to work on Monday mornings is a clear indicator of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. An unhappy workforce is an un-energized workforce. Lightening up encourages greater energy. There are innumerable ways to have some fun thrown into the needs of a business day: potluck lunches, trivia contests, family photo boards, weekend group picnics, joke of the day, and on and on. Get creative and see what works. More enjoyment translates to more energy.
We are all creatures of energy. That is simply biologically true. It makes every business sense to step back, assess your team’s level of interest, and find practical and creative ways to tap into the inner spark in yourself and your team. You can light the way!
Manager-leader specialist Jim Hornickel is the director of Training & Development at Bold New Directions. Along with a B.A. in Management, Hornickel’s professional experience includes 25 years as a manager-leader in several industries; life, leadership, and relationship coaching; and authoring “Negotiating Success” and “Managing From The Inside Out (16 Insights for Building Positive Relationships With Staff).” For more information, visit www.managementtraininginstitute.com/home and www.boldnewdirections.com.