If Your Leaders Can't Do This, Your Team Results Will Suffer


The concept of motivation has become ubiquitous in modern leadership, so much so that for many it has gone the way of other buzzwords and lost all real sense of actionable meaning and impact.

I know, because I have spent my entire career – first as a turnaround CEO and now as a Cleaver consultant - working with executives and companies who have a hollow appreciation and grasp of the role of motivation in leadership…and are paying for it in team results.

However, in my experience, motivation of teams is a timeless foundation of leadership success. No matter how many new, shiny, buzzworthy, or technology savvy strategies emerge (my LinkedIn Pulse feed seems to be full of them), motivation will never lose its place at the heart of leadership. This is why it has remained a core Cleaver Leadership Skill for decades, and why – in my experience – most successes (and failures) of leadership can be boiled down to motivation.

But how can we bring substance back to the motivation dialogue and identify practical approaches?

To answer that, I’d like to share an example from my days as a CEO.

A Case Study on the Impact of Motivation

The real impact of motivation became clear to me in 1979. After three years as the CEO of a turnaround situation at the largest 501[c] [3] VNA-Public Health organization in New Jersey, I was proud to see that the organization was finishing its 2nd year in the black after 4 years of running increasing deficits [1973-1977]. My mentor, Ozzie Nestor, PhD. a Dean of the Graduate Business School at Monmouth University, and I completed a debriefing to try to identify what went right, what did not , and why these contributing factors were imperative to this successful turnaround.

We examined the various actions taken with an eye not only on the actions themselves, but moving outside of the box to who the affected parties were for each action. One of the questions we asked was “Why did the staff commit themselves to moving the initiatives forward to success?” After all, several actions were negative (layoffs, no raises for 2 years) in nature and impacted them in a very direct fashion.

What emerged, clear as a bell, was motivation. Specifically, motivation in three distinctive areas:

Factual – Motivate Teams with Information: the exhaustive efforts to share data (financials, cash flows, rationales for actions) and remaining trust worthy/truthful in our actions, inspired the staff to analyze the data, etc. with an open mind.

Reasonable – Motivate Teams with Wisdom: once we had their attention with the data, we understood that their wisdom, which resides in the heart, assisted them to see the value of the actions to move forward.

Behavioral – Motivate Individuals with Self-Knowledge: many companies find this the hardest one to capture, because they lack the tools for understanding and discussing it. Really, it’s about tapping into what drives them or, what I often referred to as the “soul.” If you succeed here, it will not only move them forward, it will propel them forward & commit them to the organization.

Motivation and Results

It is possible for a leader to be successful if they are able to motivate in one of these three areas. However, the shelf life of that success will likely be short, or until the next problem arises and you start all over with the motivation process.

However, if your leaders can capture all three areas of motivation, success will not only be accelerated, it will endure.

As a responsible leader, this was a lesson that I have never forgot. It has guided me towards success throughout my career, and in turn has allowed me to facilitate the success of others