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How To Motivate People Without The Jedi Mind Sh!t

“The key to getting your employees to give high performance is to understand what motivates them.”

– Chris Roebuck, author Lead to Succeed.

Is this one man’s opinion or is it the truth?

Consider these 3 observable facts on motivation and decide for yourself –

  1. There’s a strong and clear link between motivation and performance (see any Employee Engagement survey for evidence).
  2. Intrinsic motivation is stronger than external motivation (compare motivation for self-chosen goal vs. goal that was given to you).
  3. Direct manager plays a large role in employee’s motivation (80% of the emotional factor in the decision, according to Lead to Succeed).

As every people manager knows, what motivates one person can differ greatly from what motivates another.  If one of your reports dreams of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, another may not be interested in mountains at all.

Roebuck further states that the secret to understanding someone’s needs is “asking questions to uncover the truth”.

Is it that simple?


5 Ways To Uncover The Truth

Let’s start with something that the very smart Albert Einstein once said:

“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.”

It’s no different for motivation.  If you’re not motivated to create an open feedback culture in your team, for example, don’t expect a direct to do it in theirs’.

Taking Mr. Roebuck’s science into consideration, let’s create 5 easy (& smart!) ways to motivate others:

  1. Listen first, talk second. As we know from Dr. Covey’s Habit #5, if you wish to be understood, you have to “seek first to understand” (didn’t Yoda say this, too?).

Actionable tip – Before you give a direct report feedback on their performance, give them a chance to give you feedback on yours’.

2. Pay attention to what they say (words & body!). Body language often speaks louder than words.

Actionable tip – If someone with closed body posture tells you they feel good about a decision, don’t believe them.  Dig deeper.

3. Ask a question at the right time.  To get to the real, underlying issue, the timing has to be right.

Actionable tip – Building on #2, when someone shows a lack of motivation about a decision, press in to their thoughts and feelings to “uncover” what they would need to be motivated about it.

4. Get to know their goals & aspirations (as people, not just employees).

Actionable tip –To “uncover” an, d harness hidden motivators, ask about things beyond work. For example, if one of your direct reports is socially active outside of work, co-create a social initiative for them to lead in your team/group/organization.

5. Find out what inspires them and tailor your words and actions, accordingly.

Actionable tip – Building on #4, if someone is motivated by socially active leaders, talk about Jane Goodall before Jeff Bezos.

The best part of each of these?

No training or external expertise required. No costs involved.

All that is required is a commitment to pay attention to the people around you.  

Simply ask smart questions and listen to what they say.

Take Action Today

The next time you’d like to motivate someone to bring their best performance to a task, remember these 3 things –

  1. If people feel you value their goals, they’ll be motivated to help you with yours.
  2. Asking questions is the key to understanding someone’s needs and goals.
  3. The more you tailor your words and actions to their needs and goals, the more influence you have.

For tips and strategies to grow your communication impact to influence (and motivate!) your people, pick up my ebook, Impact to Influence.

Thanks for reading!


P.S. For my advice on how to improve your ability to inspire and motivate people, drop me a note and let’s talk.

  • My favourites number 4 and 5…the ones that normally are missed in corporate companies!!

    • Thanks, Elena. BTW, why do you think they are missed in the corporate world?

  • Thanks, Tim. The link between motivation, performance and recognition is important. We have link performance and financial reward; however, if leaders better understand one’s motivations, they will both enhance the performance and find alternative ways to recognizse the performance. Something to consider in companies that are cost constrained.

  • I have thought about this aspect a lot. I believe that for effective motivation it needs trust and it needs a good coaching style. Trust is a factor if things such as reliability, credibility, intimacy and lack of self-oreintation (trust equation). Coaching for me is still best understood through the GROW method (GOALS – REALITY – OPTIONS – WRAPUP). When the two come together usually magic happens.

  • This really goes in the direction of the growing trend of replacing annual performance reviews with regular goals setting and feedback sessions, after and before each project starts…

    • Thanks for your comment, Charlotte. BTW, how do you feel about this trend? As I mentioned to you before, I think goal setting, including measurements of success, is very important before a trusting coaching partnership can begin. And of course, regular feedback is also important for an effective and trusting coaching partnership, I believe. Am curious to hear your thoughts on a project or L & D program?

      • I think in an L&D program, from HR perspective, it makes sense to ask for expectations before, conduct mid-program short survey in the middle and a longer one after – but that depends of course of the length of the program and the size of the group, as analyzing data takes time. The trainer / coach can do it in a more “qualitative” manner during the whole process though (and I don’t know any trainer who would not do it actually..!

        Regarding the annual reviews, I think they give a structure which is good for overwhelmed managers who are asked to do more and more nowadays… but if we (L&D professionals) make them understand that checking on their employees’ motivation on a regular basis will make them more effective, a big part of our job is done 🙂

        • Yes, thanks. A big message I try to communicate to managers I work with is that feedback is essential to their reports’ motivation and therefore it is in their best interest to do it. And do it regularly. Also, I try to encourage them to have feedback exchanges more than just once a year, even though they are so overloaded.

          Apropos feedback, I believe it is the best development tool there is. If interested, please see

          Thanks again and talk soon!

  • I think that motivation is a foundamental element to have a successful team that can really make a difference for the company. Get in touch with your teammates is essential to bulid trust and respect. I found a powerful approach in a company where they create a weekly feedback session (one to one) in order to discuss what went wrong or what they can improve. They follow a specific set of questions in order to keep the focus on relationship aspects. A very motivational tool that creates an open dialogue within the company.

    • Thanks for your comment, Marco. I’m curious about that specific set of questions. Can you give me an example or two? I agree – open dialogue is key!

  • It’s also a more enjoyable way to live when we ask questions and listen to the people we work with, live with and meet on the train. I often find it challenging to do this, though it is very rewarding.

    • Thanks, Greg. Yes, not easy to do these days – especially as most people have headphones on or are looking at their phone!