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Are You a Good Team Motivator? How Do You Know?

Bob and Sally are both director-level leaders at a soon to launch e-commerce company (or fintech company, or protein replacement company – whatever, it doesn’t matter).

Market conditions have shifted in such a way that the optimal time for launch is RIGHT NOW. The thing is though, right now is three months earlier than planned.

Both Bob and Sally’s teams are key to the launch efforts. Both go to their team with the new rallying cry. “Here we go! Isn’t this exciting! It’s all hands-on deck so we can get to market as soon as possible.”

Sally’s team is pumped. “We can do this!” they tell her. Sally and her team quickly get to work on a revised launch strategy, which they arrive at happily and speedily. Bob’s team is not so pumped. His initial announcement is met with silence. Then, one by one they message him with all the reasons the early launch is impossible. Bob knows their objections aren’t sound. He doubles down on the rallying cry. He’s met with even more vocal dissent.

Bob is baffled. Why did Sally’s team, who arguably will have a tougher time meeting the new deadline, jump onboard right away? And why did his team, who are more than capable of meeting the deadline, resist so strongly? He decides that his team has been “coddled” for too long. It’s time to crack the whip.

What’s going on here?

Well, Sally whether she knew it or not, has been preparing for this moment all year. She has dedicated a substantial amount of her time to listening, observing and connecting with her team. She fulfills her commitments. When she sets targets, they are challenging, but realistic. When deadlines are missed, people are held accountable. Through this work, a deep, mutual understanding has emerged. And so has trust. They know that she is on their side, that she respects their opinions and expertise and she believes in their abilities. She sees herself as a walking, talking embodiment of everything her team can be. And as a result, she has become a catalyst for action.

Bob, on the other hand, has spent most of the past year in meetings with his boss and fellow directors. After the meetings, he goes to his office to analyze, strategize and plan. Often, he arrives at the right solution, but not always. So when his plans don’t pan out, he goes back to the drawing board, alone in his office. Deadlines are missed and new deadlines are set. Plans are abandoned. New plans are made. Bob’s employees have trouble getting him to return emails. They can’t get time on his schedule. Most importantly, they can’t get him to make decisions. Neither will he empower them to make decisions. The team is feeling frustrated and invalidated. The result is disconnection. And a complete lack of trust. And, ultimately, a poisonous cynicism. Bob is a nice guy, but in effect, he’s a catalyst for inaction (unless that action is eye-rolling).

In my career, I’ve been Sally and I’ve been Bob. We all want to think of ourselves as Sallys, but I can tell you that it’s easier to become a Bob than you might think. When we’re stressed, many of us have a tendency to hunker down, retreat into our own world and to try to do everything ourselves. The very idea of opening up is threatening. “I don’t have time for this.” “They don’t see the complete picture.” “They ask too many questions.” “They’re coddled.”

When we have difficulty giving up control, it’s often because we lack the confidence in our own ability to communicate a cohesive vision. Bob is constantly revising his. And because his vision is arrived at alone in his office, he’s in a constant state of “selling” it to people who can no longer be sold. Talk about stressful!

Sally on the other hand, co-creates her vision. She doesn’t so much set the direction of her team, she listens for it. To do this, she asks questions. Good ones – the kind that lead to ah-ha moments where suddenly, everyone in the room has a deep common understanding that no single individual had before. There’s need to “sell” her ideas because as co-creations, they’re already known, understood and baked into how her team operates.

It boils down to this:

When employees don’t buy-in, it’s because they feel that you haven’t bought in. You haven’t done your homework. You haven’t walked and talked and questioned and learned. They don’t feel heard and so they don’t hear you.

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get your Sally-groove on.

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