Getting a handle on motivation and leadership.

by Dr. Dick Larkin, Volunteer Mentor, Kitsap SCORE

Motivation Is Personal 

Employee motivation is not a one-size-fits-all driving force of behavior that a business owner can manage by following a few textbook suggestions or providing scheduled rewards to every employee achieving a company milestone.  Motivation, or the desire accomplish something is driven by a set of internal values, unique to each individual.

Nearly anyone who has brothers or sisters, or has raised children can see differences in the interests and behavior of each of their siblings or children.  Even though all family members are usually raised in the same home environment, their interests, career objectives, and long term social relations can be very different from each other as they age.  Each person in the family develops their own personality, behaviors, interests, and career plans in a way that make them unique, or different from any other individual.

As people experience life, they usually maintain shared family values, connections, and a sense of belonging, but at the same time, most people are driven by their own personal interests and follow an independent path into the future.

The differences found in family members are also found in companies.  Like family, there is no simple set of rules designed to motivate all employees.   In order to develop and maintain a highly productive and team oriented company, an owner must be more than a manager, they must be a leader.

Leadership and Management

Managers do not motivate people, leaders do and yet leadership is one of the least understood concepts in the business community.  The Handbook of Leadership says “there are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept.”

In the broadest terms a manager tends to not fully trust their employees.   They micro-manage by giving overly specific directions, closely monitoring details of all work in the company and limiting opportunities for employees to make suggestions or share ideas.

A leader on the other hand who might or might not be an owner or manager, trusts their staff and coworkers to make the right decisions and do the right thing. They explain an assignment or business concern then allow individuals the freedom to perform the task without interfering.  They are available for consultation, but they do NOT micro-manage workers.

For the purpose of this writing, I’ll consider leadership as behaving in a way that will bring out the best in others and provide a work atmosphere that will enhance the internal motivational drive in people.

A business owner with leadership skills appreciates each member of the company and they work to develop a team spirit that allows employees to utilize their special talents for the good of the whole organization.

What motivates employees?

There is no single answer, but it is not just money.  Money is a satisfier.  If a worker feels they are not getting enough money to support their needs, their concerns about financial matters can cause them stress and lead them to distraction, or demotivation.  If a worker is being paid enough to satisfy their needs and support their chosen lifestyle, additional money will not always make them more productive, though they will probably appreciate some extra financial rewards at times.

The deeper and more lasting motivator of people is usually giving them a feeling they are doing something worthwhile and their effort is genuinely appreciated.

Leadership behaviors to help motivate employees:

Don’t worry about being clever, even particularly smart.  Concentrate on being honest, caring, focused, positive, and more than any other characteristic, authentic.

Speak to, or at least smile at and acknowledge every person you pass nearby.  Say hello to workers arriving for their shift and thank them at the end of their shift.

Treat everyone in the work place, in personal life, and in public life as though they are spending time with you because they want to be with you, not because they have to be with you.

Whenever spending time with someone, whether they are a personal friend, a cashier in a retail store, a co-worker, or any other person – look into their eyes as you leave and see if you have left them a little happier for being with you.

Work constantly to see, hear, and feel the positive forces of nature.  Share experiences and time with positive people and limit time with negative people; they will only bring you down.

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t accomplish every goal exactly on time and with the results you expected.  Every activity in life is a learning experience – evaluate what “went wrong” and modify your approach with your next project.


Dick Larkin, M.B.A., Ed.D. is a SCORE Counselor and Certified Mentor serving King, Kitsap, and Mason Counties.

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