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The Top Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Try to Motivate Your Employees (and What to Do Instead)

Learn why inspiration and connection are the real key to long lasting motivation.

Aug 22, 2022

Motivation is a powerful force. It’s also tricky. Too much motivation can seem like badgering, and too little can have serious and usually unwelcome results. When it comes to motivating your employees, there is a sweet spot. But it’s not about motivation at all; it’s about inspiration. Provide the right inspiration and you’ll unlock hidden potential that will skyrocket your company’s growth and innovation. 

Motivation is fleeting

Motivating employees is not enough. It’s a quick fix that gets you through the day but leaves no lasting impact. 

Motivation is fleeting, meaning it comes and goes. To motivate someone isn’t like building something. It’s more like trying to light a sparkler. What you’re trying to do is build something more like a bonfire, where people are really connected to the cause and their work. 

Motivation is not sustainable, and it’s not a long-term solution. It doesn’t build habits or make work feel easier or more enjoyable.

Suppose you don’t provide a way for your employees to grow and learn new skills. In that case, they will eventually lose interest in their jobs—but if you help them make progress toward bigger goals that affect their lives outside the office, they’ll be motivated to keep working hard even when things are tough.

Motivation isn’t a strategy; it’s an emotion temporarily brought on by external factors such as prizes, gratitude, and praise from others, or even just being around other people who are happy about what they’re doing (or at least pretending to be). 

And while these factors can help us achieve goals in the short term — especially if we’re feeling unmotivated — achieving something new requires a lot more than just getting pumped up about it for a few minutes before returning to our normal routines and habits.

Your job isn’t to motivate your people

The first step in helping your employees understand their own motivation is to realize that you can’t motivate them. Plenty of people will argue against this idea—that we must motivate our employees because, without motivation, there would be no innovation (or something like that).

I agree that there needs to be some level of motivation to help the overall mood of an organization, but meaningful growth comes from true inspiration. You have longer-lasting results when you help a person tap into what lights them up and inspires them. 

People need to be inspired

People need to be inspired. It’s a fact.

People find it rewarding to do something if they know you value them as individuals. This is the real key to inspiration. However, the trick is that inspiration comes from within; it’s not something that someone else can give you. If you can help inspire people to discover their greatness, look out!

The best way for people to be inspired is by connecting them to the cause they’re working towards, to each other, and ultimately, to themselves. If these conditions aren’t met, then it’s up to you—the manager or team leader—to create an environment that inspires everyone around you by giving them something worth fighting for. 

But if we’re being honest, it is still much deeper than this.  Leaders must realize that people want purpose. A recent report from Mckinsey indicates that 70 percent of employees said that their work defines their sense of purpose.

When people have a purpose and the purpose is connected to what is important to them, they’re much more inspired to show up fully engaged.  

What leaders can do instead

Leaders must help people connect to themselves, their values, and their bigger mission before they are able to connect to their organization. 

This is the only way to inspire people, and it’s a crucial part of being an effective leader. It’s not enough to provide a paycheck or even an inspiring mission statement. You need to create an environment where people can connect with their feelings, thoughts, and experiences to understand what inspires them. 

Creating a culture where people feel safe exploring and expressing their thoughts and feelings will foster more connection and inspiration. 

The best way to create a connected and inspired culture is to start with yourself as a leader. 

Are you connected to what’s important to you? Do you understand your self-awareness of what inspires and connects you? 

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks of running a company, but if you don’t have time to think about what’s important to you, how can you expect others to know? 

Make sure you take the time to reflect on what matters to you and gain the skills you need to support yourself. 

I call these skills Reflective Leadership and Reflective Intelligence.  Such skills include emotional intelligence, self-care, compassionate reflection, and radical responsibility. 

Once you are better connected with yourself, you can ensure you are more equipped to inspire others to connect with what’s important to them. 

Start by getting clear on the values and principles that are important to your team members and use these as a foundation for creating your culture.

One way is by having regular conversations with your team. Ask them what they care about and what matters most in their lives outside of work. Honest conversations will help you understand their values and motivations so that you can support them when they express those values through their actions.

Help people understand the organization’s values

Help them connect the organization’s values with their own. Employees may find it hard to believe in an organization’s mission statement when they don’t even know what they truly stand for themself.  

Through various experiences as well as compassionate mentoring, leaders can help people define and articulate who they are so that they can begin translating those qualities into meaningful contributions to the company (and vice versa).

Reward employees by helping them better connect with themselves. By providing opportunities for people to connect with themselves, they’ll be much more motivated and fulfilled in their work. 

When people have a clearer sense of who they are and what they want out of life, it will translate into higher performance levels, and they will generally be much more positive and happier to be around! 

When people feel good about themselves, they’re happier to share that positivity with others. In other words, it’s not just about how you lead (or don’t lead) your business, but also how you treat the people who work within it!

This kind of work doesn’t happen overnight – but if you’re patient enough, it will pay off in terms of employee satisfaction, connectivity, and innovation!

The only way you can connect people to a cause is by taking the time to connect with them as human beings

I hope these insights help you in your journey as a leader. Remember that the most important thing is to connect with your employees on a personal level. They need to feel connected and inspired by what they do, not just motivated by it. This means taking time first to ensure you know how to connect with yourself, then helping others learn how to connect with themselves.

In order to connect, you must reflect. 

Help others learn how to properly reflect to discover their goals and what’s important to them. Then work together towards success—no matter how small the steps are along the way!

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