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If your answer is yes, you have probably spent countless hours asking yourself: How do I motivate them? How do I get them to be happy at work again? What can I do to get them to feel inspired and want to do more?

These are great questions. Except the truth is, no matter how many hours you spend thinking about it, the right solution is never to be found in your head.

What motivates and inspires us is personal. Intrinsic motivation, the one that comes from deep inside a person, is what will make them do things even when you don’t ask. And the key to unlocking that is not found in the mind of the leader. It is found through dialogue.

You might think it is common sense, but I notice so many managers forget it. Something about the leader title makes you think, you have to be the expert with all the answers.

So write this down: I am not solely responsible for my team members’ motivation levels – it is a joint responsibility and solutions come through connection and conversation.

Perhaps most importantly, if someone else decides what it is that will motivate us, we are less likely to want to follow it.

Avoid leading like an annoying parent
As a leader if you try to sort it all out in your head, you end up taking on the role of an annoying parent without ears. And I am sure you do not want to be your team members’ parents. If you want independent, focused self-starters, the way forward is to ask and listen. Remember, you are both adults. Your role is to uncover what makes your team members tick and facilitate the environment and support that has them thrive.

Exercise: Sparking motivation and energy in a disengaged team member

1. Arrange a one-to-one with the team member you find disengaged

Bring genuine curiosity. Leave judgements and assumptions aside. Your openness in how you show up is more important than your words. Often de-motivation has to do with more than just what is happening at work. Pay attention to what your team member says and just as importantly, what they don’t say.

2. Tips on how to conduct the meeting

It is never a good idea to say to someone “I can see you are disengaged and demotivated“. None of us like to be judged. It gets us into defense mode.

If you want, you can start the conversation by sharing some specifics, you have observed. E.g. I have noticed that you are smiling less these days and that you have been more quiet in team meetings. But often the best start is saying: “I want to make sure all of my team members are thriving, so would it be alright if I ask you a few questions?

Below you will find a series of questions (in no particular order) you can use to deepen the conversation. Trust your instincts as to which ones will be most useful for your situation:

  • When time flies and you really enjoy your work, what are you doing?
  • Imagine I could grant you three improvements to your work situation right now – what would you ask for?
  • When you are having a really great day, what do you remember from that day?
  • What kind of working rhythm works for you?
  • If you could have any job in the organisation, which job would you want? And why?
  • What drains your energy? Which activities, projects, interactions do you wish you didn’t have to do?
  • On a scale from 1-10 how motivated and inspired do you feel right now? What can we do to get it higher?
  • What do you want and need from me to make your work more fulfilling and enjoyable?

Reflect back what you are hearing and check your understanding. This will build connection and help your team member feel heard.

3. How to ensure the motivation lasts

Depending on the outcome of the conversation your next step is to find agreement about the best way forward. Ask your team member: What are you willing to commit to? And share what you will commit to doing for them.

Some individuals might need longer to think about these questions and if that is the case invite them to take a few days (max a week) to come back with some answers.

And let’s not forget…

It is not in your power to motivate anyone. Genuine inspired, energy comes from inside a person. All you can do is uncover what makes this person light up and see if you can create conditions more often to encourage that light to shine. Take your responsibility – and let your team members take theirs. And if it doesn’t work, your job is to be honest about the impact their disengagement is having on the job, business and colleagues.

I would love to hear what questions you have used to engage and motivate your team members. What has worked for you?

Image credit: Ryan McGuire of Made By Bells Design

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