Motivating others
Beyond “Just do it”: Motivating your team

Sure, people you lead “have” to do what you ask. But isn’t it better if they “want” to?

Motivation comes from a mix of intrinsic (internal) factors and extrinsic (external) factors. Both can be effective, but extrinsic motivation (rewards, money, acclaim) tends to be more short-term while intrinsic motivation (driven by a personal interest or desire) is more lasting over time.

Work that someone finds personally rewarding and that aligns with their individual values and preferences is more likely to result in achievement and success for the long term. That’s what you want to foster and tap into as a leader.

Using the principles of self-determination theory

As we introduced here , self-determination theory is a method for developing intrinsically motivated team members. It suggests that people are motivated to grow and change by three innate and universal psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. 

motivation Autonomy is the idea that we are in control of our own life and are able to make our own choices and set our own goals. 

Competence is feeling effective in our environment and that we have the skills needed for success—and also that there’s a possibility to learn and master new skills. According to Gallup, a key driver of employee engagement is when managers focus on employees’ strengths and give them opportunities to develop.


Relatedness is a sense of belonging or attachment to other people or to the work. Our interests have a significant impact on what we choose to focus on at work. Gallup says having a caring manager and a purpose at work are two more key drivers of engagement.


Meeting these needs is essential to feeling intrinsically motivated, and as a result, being happier and more engaged at work.

To boost autonomy:
  • Mutually assign objectives and establish deadlines along with your team.
  • Incorporate others in decision-making more often.
  • Ask questions to guide people to finding their own solutions, rather than only giving advice or telling them what do. For example, “How will you approach this task?” “What will you do first?”
  • Clearly communicate to empower others, leaving no doubt about what you want success to look like.
To boost competence:
  • Remind people of the progress they’ve made and show them you’re helping them make more progress.
  • Encourage them to set goals so hitting milestones can be recognized.
  • Ask team members about their goals so you can support them in making progress.
To boost relatedness:
  • Foster social connection by making time to connect.
  • Connect people to purpose. Describe how tasks relate to the whole team and the organization’s larger objectives.
  • Understand what your team finds exciting. For example, a “numbers” person will likely prioritize tasks that involve statistics, data, or financials. But, someone interested in writing might quickly lose interest in tasks that emphasize numbers.
Tailoring is key.

Trying to motivate people in ways that don’t fit them can de-motivate them, cause you to lose credibility, or create diminishing returns. As a leader, you want to tailor your motivation tactics to the meet the moment, the challenge, and the person.

Asking preference questions can help you tailor appropriately:

  • Do you prefer feedback one-on-one or in a group?
  • What do you like to do and what do you think your strengths are?
  • What are your professional goals for this year and in the next 5 years? How do you like to be communicated with?
Be appreciative!

Appreciation and motivation go hand in hand. Appreciation is expressing thankfulness, not based on someone’s performance but on their inherent value to the company. It’s different from extrinsic motivators like rewards or money and is closely tied to feelings of engagement and satisfaction.

To show appreciation:
  • Express gratitude privately and publicly.
  • Be open to feedback.
  • Send messages and emails of thanks.
  • Celebrate people’s birthdays and work anniversaries.
  • Thank them for who they are as a member of the team.

Being a great coach who motivates, appreciates, and guides team members is one of the Dynamite Dozen skills of effective managers. Do you feel you have the tools effectively motivate yourself and your team?

Motivation & Appreciation is one part of our Management Essentials training. Explore more here.

How can we help your leaders and business excel?