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Motivating and Inspiring as a Leader

November 6, 2016
By GradProSkills


Are you a TA hoping to inspire your students to learn about an important topic or a manager striving for increased team productivity? In both cases, knowing how to motivate people towards achievement is a skill that can boost your success as a leader. In today’s blog post, we will discuss the ins and outs of motivation – what it is, how to instill it, and most importantly – how to ensure it leads to the desired outcome. Are you ready to learn the secrets of inspiring people?

What motivates us

Let’s start by looking at what motivates your followers. Sahar Taher – a M.Sc. student at John Molson School of Business and a workshop leader for GPLD145 - Motivating and Inspiring as A Leader – defines motivation as “an unobservable force that directs, energizes, and sustains behavior over time and across changing circumstances.” Different people can be motivated in different ways to achieve the same objective. For example, some students pursue a graduate degree, because it will help them get a better job, while others do so because they simply like conducting research. The first is an example of controlled motivation – motivation driven by external forces beyond the individual’s interest. The second is an example of self-driven motivation – motivation stemming from actual passion for something. Both types are not mutually-exclusive and can often co-exist in the same individual.

How to instill the right type of motivation

“According to research, self-driven motivation produces better outcomes,” explains Sahar. When your followers genuinely care for something, such as a cause or a task, they are willing to devote more effort to it, they strive for excellence, and experience higher job satisfaction. But how do you move your followers from controlled to self-driven motivation? According to Sahar, you must meet three of their needs:

  • Competency: There are many ways to make people feel competent. For example, a team leader can split tasks according to each member’s individual strengths and a teacher can refrain from giving students tasks that are overly difficult for them. As Sahar cautions, challenging followers is a great idea, but you must do it incrementally to avoid loss of motivation.
  • Relatedness: As a leader, you need to ensure that your followers feel related to the cause, the team, the institution. For example, if you appear supportive and approachable, people will feel more connected to you and consequently, more motivated to follow you. Yet, “be careful not to encourage dependency,” cautions Sahar. “All people should be able to meet their most basic requirements by themselves.”
  • Autonomy: Give your followers autonomy. Rather than forcing them to perform a task, explain why the task should be important and meaningful to them, so they can choose to do it without coercion.

How to move from motivation to action

A good leader has to do more than motivate people – she or he must show them how to turn their motivation into meaningful actions. Begin by setting high standards – an end goal. This is the vision of your organization. Sahar explains that as a leader, you need to translate the organizational vision to your followers and ensure that they are accomplishing their tasks accordingly. To do this, you need to know what to deliver and how to deliver it effectively:

What to deliver
  • Carefully analyze your audience. What is their background? What are their beliefs? Their wants and needs?
  • Use the results of your analysis to explain to your audience how accomplishing the vision of your organization can meet their needs and wants.
How to deliver

Sahar recommends several ways for effectively communicating the vision:

  • Show integrity and passion through your voice, body language, and facial expressions.
  • Make sure your voice, body language, and facial expressions match your audience’s expectations.
  • Engage and ask questions to show your audience that their needs and wants matter.
  • Connect, compare, and contrast.
  • Use imagery.

And if you want to improve your communication skills even further, you can take various relevant GradProSkills workshops such as GPSC420 - Communicate Effectively.

Once you have communicated you end goal, break it into smaller goals for your followers. According to Sahar, you would generally want to make these goals SMART – specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and trackable. In other words, they must clearly identify the actions you would like to be performed, they are likely to be achieved, and can be objectively measured. An example of a SMART goal is “To improve my writing skills, I am going to write for half an hour every day for the next two weeks.“ A final word of caution – SMART goals might not be suitable for all cases. “For novel and complex tasks, the do-your-best goals might actually work better than the SMART goals,” advises Sahar. 

Being able to motivate and inspire people is a valuable addition to the toolbox of any good leader, but it is not everything. To learn more critical leadership skills, check out the rest of our Leadership workshops. Take charge of your leadership development today!

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