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June 3, 2019

3 Keys to Effective Motivation

Effective leadership is closely related to effective motivation. In fact, “motivating people is one of a leader’s prime tools” (Goleman, 2000). Current motivation theory goes back to the 1930’s and is continuously being developed within organizational behavior theories. Considering what moves people is also a key competency of emotional intelligence and therefore crucial for leadership. Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be influenced by effective leadership, highlighting that people are not necessarily primarily influenced by money.

According to motivation research, “motivation is a psychological process resulting from the interaction between the individual and the environment” (Latham & Pinder, 2005). This definition implies the need for communication, care, and culture within an organization that creates an environment where people are motivated to fulfill a cause.


One of my most impacting leadership experiences, after being a regional area manager at Lidl in Germany for four years and being responsible for staff in three to six stores with around one hundred employees in total, was, in fact, being part of the “Refresh Team” at my first Conference in Sydney. What I learned then and later as part of the cleaning team on staff at Hillsong Church during my studies was that cleaning bathrooms and emptying bins require leadership that can motivate like no other area. There were several aspects that could be drawn out of my experience, but the way my leader Matt was communicating with us was outstanding. Using Yukl’s leadership behavior taxonomy to describe it (G. Yukl, 2012), Matt demonstrated a great balance of task-oriented, relations-oriented, change-oriented and external behavior. Not only the simple fact that he sent out a text a week in advance but also the language he used to say that he is looking forward to having us on the team and that we will be going to have a great time, was preparing his success in leading a team that nobody wanted to be on – let’s be real, cleaning toilets, no thanks!

Effective leaders “motivate people by making clear to them how their work fits into a larger vision for the organization” (Goleman, 2000). Cleaning toilets and refilling paper towels was crucial to the success of the conference, not just because it was a women’s conference. According to Yukl, such a vision needs to be “relevant to the values, ideals, and needs of followers and communicated with colorful, emotional language” in order to be motivating (G. Yukl, 2012). As Chapman and White point out in their book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (2011), “motivation by appreciation” has become a significant discovery for organizations of any size.


Motivation by appreciation reflects that leaders care for people if communicated well. As Yukl points out “leaders care about people as well as economic outcomes” while “managers are concerned how things get done” (G. A. Yukl, 2013). This balance of task-orientation versus people-orientation is certainly a challenge leaders need to face when seeking to motivate followers. Developing emotional intelligence helps leaders to improve navigating this balance, particularly by reflecting on and improving the five emotional competencies “self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills” (Goleman, 1999) – check out one of my previous blog posts about this topic.

The importance of emotional intelligence for genuinely ‘care-full’ motivational leadership became apparent in a few of my experiences with both leaders and followers. For one example, although I genuinely cared for my employees I failed to motivate some while being successful with others until I learned some of the “appreciation languages” (Chapman & White, 2011) that were not my own. Only then, my genuine care for them individually was communicated appropriately.

As mentioned earlier, appreciation needs to be genuine, and words need to be reflected in behavior. Followers want to be supported which requires leaders to listen and to be concerned with individual needs and feelings. To recognize the need of belonging from Maslow’s motivation theory is crucial for motivating followers. People want to be included which can be achieved by an open communication environment within an organization. I mentioned this briefly in my first blog post about leadership. Sharing your vision with your team and considering their place within that vision shows that you actually care for your people.


After discussing the roles of communication and care it can be observed that they both are crucial for creating a motivating culture. According to Goleman’s study on the impact of different leadership styles on organizational climate, the working environment has a significant influence on organizational performance. He defines six key factors which can be applied to creating a culture that is motivating itself as well as a positive precondition for motivation. Such culture needs to be flexibleopen for innovative ideas; reflect responsibilityand encourage a sense of ownership; be defined by high standards; involve feedback and rewards; give “clarity about mission and values”; and inspire “commitment to a common purpose” (Goleman, 2000). Also, “a major function of culture is…to reduce anxiety, uncertainty, and confusion” (G. A. Yukl, 2013). To know ‘how things are done around here’ makes up a culture and has an enormous effect on the performance of a team.

Yukl points out that leaders might only influence a culture over time which implies that a culture is developing itself if not actively changed. Changing a culture is actually more difficult in an existing organization compared to establishing a culture in a new organization. Nevertheless, by continuously communicating vision and values, establishing rituals or traditions and integrating systems and programs, culture can be changed or created.

Without discrediting his leadership qualities, Matt’s advantage in leading the “Refresh Team” compared to my experience as area manager was that he was immersed in a strong leadership culture of motivation and encouragement. Even though our team was allocated to this area, Matt communicated that we were appreciated for what we were doing and did not take us for granted. He encouraged us that the part we played at the conference was significant and that we contributed to the experience that the thousands of ladies attending the conference had. Besides that, he communicated effectively in task-related situations, authoritative but respectful in change-related situations and made an effort to communicate relationally to each team member.

In conclusion, communication, care, and culture have crucial roles for effective motivation and intertwine with each other. Communication is required to care for people and to establish a culture. A culture needs to reflect good communication and care in order to be motivating. And if people do not feel cared for their level of motivation might be rather low. Emotional intelligence has once again been highlighted due to its importance in effective leadership and as a prerequisite for effective motivation. A leader needs to speak the appreciation language of its subordinates in order to be successful. Please note that this blog post only scratches the surface and that each element offers much more content to be looked at.

If you would like to work on any of these areas in your own leadership please contact me and inquire about my coaching availability.

Happy Wednesday for a change! Have a great week.


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