How Leaders Can Skyrocket Motivation Instead of Sinking It

The Essential Balancing Act of Leadership

Picture this: you’re leading a dynamic team, and you’ve got your sights set on skyrocketing their motivation. Now, that’s some impressive ambition right there! But here’s a twist for you: could you be accidentally torpedoing your team’s morale, even as you try to uplift it? It might be time to ponder whether your leadership style is accidentally nudging you into the role of a ‘joy-jammer’.

Simply put, stirring up motivation isn’t just about piling on the positives. Sometimes, it’s about staunching the negatives. It’s less about heaping on inspiration, more about sidestepping the pitfalls that squelch it. Does this sound a bit too theatrical? Stick with me, and we’ll explore this together.

Unintentional Morale Missteps

Let’s talk about a little trip I took a few years back. Destination: a high-profile software firm in Seattle, home to a group of brilliant, yet utterly dispirited engineers. These bright sparks had spent two long years developing a project they believed would be a game-changer for their company. However, a week before my visit, the CEO axed the project. In the aftermath, the despondent team members scattered, most opting to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

The CEO’s decision isn’t on trial here. Instead, we’re looking at how it was implemented and the ripple effect it had on the team. Could it have been done differently, to avoid such a colossal motivation meltdown?

The Domino Effect of Morale Mismanagement

When questioned about how the CEO might have softened the blow, the team had a goldmine of suggestions. They proposed showcasing working prototypes, repurposing parts of the technology, and hosting a workshop to share the blood, sweat, and tears poured into the last two years.

Common denominator in all these ideas? Investment of time, effort, and yes, a bit of money. More crucially, they demonstrated an empathetic understanding of the team’s emotional stake in the project.

Lesson number one, then? Don’t be a joy-jammer. It may seem glaringly apparent, but too often, well-intentioned leaders miss the mark, overlooking the profound impact their actions can have on team morale.

How Projects Can Turn into Motivational Black Holes

Have you ever poured heart and soul into a project, only to watch it evaporate before your eyes? Felt the sting of wasted effort when a task you meticulously worked on disappeared into the ether? It’s a morale-sapping experience akin to creating a masterpiece, only to be told it might never be displayed.

Unfortunately, this scenario isn’t a rarity. Many people find themselves stuck in a loop, working on projects destined for the ‘might never happen’ black hole.

The Open Source Model of Recognition

So, how do we flip the script and build a supportive environment that encourages, rather than deflates, motivation? For that, let’s borrow a leaf from the open source community. In this arena, any piece of code you write carries your name forever, symbolizing your indelible contribution. It sparks a sense of ownership and responsibility that pushes individuals to continually improve their work.

This level of recognition is precisely what we need to cultivate in our workplaces. Seeing your name tied to your work, knowing your efforts are recognized and appreciated, is an incredibly potent motivational force.

Giving Credit Where It’s Due

Recognizing contributions goes beyond just tagging names to projects. It’s about acknowledging ideas, giving credit where it’s due, and fostering a culture where everyone’s intellectual and creative inputs are valued.

Imagine a renowned chef creating a signature dish based on your recipe, but without giving you any credit. Sounds disheartening, right? That’s exactly how it feels when your ideas are used without recognition. Remember, credit costs nothing, but its impact is immeasurable.

Navigating the Motivational Seas Without Becoming a Joy-Jammer

Increasing motivation isn’t solely about adding a positive charge; it’s also about neutralizing the negatives. It’s about foreseeing potential joy-jamming actions and actively avoiding them. It’s about celebrating the hard work, ingenuity, and ideas that your team brings to the table. And most importantly, it’s about realizing that your actions and decisions as a leader have profound ramifications on your team’s morale and motivation.

So, are you ready to steer clear of the joy-jammer quagmire and hoist the flag of the motivator? The journey may not be smooth sailing all the way, but the reward – a highly motivated, engaged, and dedicated team – is worth the occasional choppy waters.

Further reading

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. Plenum Press. Link

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Books. Link

Gagné, M., & Deci, E. L. (2005). Self-determination theory and work motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26(4), 331-362. Link

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting & task performance. Prentice-Hall.

Salas, E., Dickinson, T. L., Converse, S. A., & Tannenbaum, S. I. (1992). Toward an understanding of team performance and training. In Training and Development in Work Organizations (pp. 333-380). Routledge.

Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16(2), 250-279.