Despite the many books that tell us otherwise, many team leaders and managers simply don’t believe the one simple truth about motivating people. People work hardest when they believe in the task they are doing, and believe the person they are doing it for believes in them. In other words, there are two cardinal rules for motivating a team member.
1. They must see that what they are doing matters. Now admittedly, not everyone is handing the brain surgeon the critical tools to keep the patient alive, but in most organizations every task has a true and necessary purpose. If that is not the case, the place will be going bankrupt sometime soon. There are essentially two ways a manager or leader can show people the importance of their work. First, they can connect the worker to the process. That means they show how each copy of that report flows through the system to keep the whole process working. Second, they can show the worker how their part of the work directly affects the success of the overall project. A dirty floor seems unimportant until the worker understands how that dirt directly affected the quality of the final product.
2. People want to work for someone who notices the efforts they put in. When we “talk down” to people, we crush their creativity and drive to succeed in our team. The author Tony Campolo (a Christian sociologist) shared how he was once at a sophisticated academic gathering at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote: “I didn’t want to be there, and I felt uncomfortable with the kinds of conversations that were going on. A woman colleague who taught sociology struck up a conversation with my wife and me. At one point she turned to my wife and asked, in a condescending fashion, “And what is it that you do, my dear?” My wife, who is one of the most articulate people I know, shot back, “I am socializing two homosapiens in the the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be the instruments for the transformation of the social order into the kind of eschatological utopia that God willed from the beginning of creation!” Then my wife asked politely and sweetly, “And what is it that you do?” The woman answered humbly, “I…I… teach sociology (Campolo, Let Me Tell…, 144-145).”
Talking down to people only makes them defensive. Christian author Gary Smalley asked five divorced women, individually, “If your husband began treating you in a consistently loving manner, would you take him back?” Each one replied, “Of course, I would!” Even after all the pain, they would still reconsider. If we understand the deep longing every member of the team has to be loved, accepted and praised, we will understand some keys to motivating them. It is not only because we will get better work from, it is because we will help them become better people.