When I run leadership programmes I ask individuals whether they feel their role is to motivate and get the best from their direct reports, and usually they all believe these are critical parts of their role. I would suggest this thinking is flawed.
Firstly, if we assume we are there to motivate our teams then the risk is we will do all we can to excite them, we'll look for ways they could improve performance, we'll highlight their shortcomings and give them excellent advice on what to do next time - naturally with constant encouragement. But this makes us the driver, which may bring excellent short-term results but could have a negative long-term impact - what then happens when we are not around? When we're driving performance it's more of a management approach, than a leadership approach. Rather than motivating others, our role as a leader is surely to inspire them to motivate themselves. This requires different thinking and behaviour.
It's more about listening than telling, questioning than advising, and encouraging others to come up with ideas rather than merely giving our own. We all want people to perform at their best - be it family, friends, employees or colleagues, but this doesn't come from focusing on what we 'get'.
I often ask the question: "if you could have everyone treat you the way you'd like to be treated, how would that be?". Typical responses invariably include with respect, attention, support, encouragement, openly, honestly and so on. However, when I ask the follow-up question: "can you make people treat you this way?", silence is followed by a gradual recognition that actually you cannot make people treat you a certain way. Perhaps we can influence it, but we cannot control it. In truth, organizational leaders have virtually no control over what they 'get', only over what they 'give'.
When a client was starting a new job, I asked him how it would be in a perfect world and how he would like the CEO to treat him. He talked of how wonderful this job would be if he could "have my boss really listen to me and value my ideas, have colleagues who enjoy working with me, and have a highly motivated team who continually stretch themselves".
Sounded great, but then I asked him to focus instead on what he could control, or what he could 'give' to the new role. From this new perspective he realised there was so much he could give, he could take time to listen to his boss and her ideas, demonstrate genuine interest and support for his colleagues, encourage his team to be creative and ask questions that would stretch their thinking so they could take ownership for their ideas - always the best way to have a person shine.
Guess what, he contacted me a few months later to let me know that the job had turned out to be everything he could have wanted! I've frequently observed that a lack of confidence can cause people to be more concerned about what they may 'get' from situations, asking, for instance: 'Will people think I'm a great boss?' This focuses totally on 'get' which they cannot control, but thinking this way could create exactly what they don't want.
No matter what the circumstances, we need to focus on what we can contribute to this situation, this person, this group. Ask yourself every day: 'If there is one thing I could give to my colleagues or team to support them to perform at their best, what would it be?' Where is your focus right now - on give or on get?
Penny Ferguson, managing partner at leadership development company, The Living Leader