Push or Pull? The Secret To Leading, Motivating, and Inspiring
Knowing when to nurture and when to challenge your charges is an important part of the leadership process.
September 23, 2013
I recently had a conversation with a young soldier, a paratrooper with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. I asked him about his future plans and if they included reenlisting and making the Army his career. He shared with me this story.
“I usually don’t think I am going to make it a career, but then something happens to make me rethink. Recently we had a command ceremony and had a two-mile run to the parade grounds to hear a speech. It was hot, humid, and the soldiers were tired and sweaty. We waited in formation for the ceremony to begin and I was thinking to myself, ‘What am I doing here and what can I do to make it end?’ The keynote speaker was introduced and he was amazing! He spoke of honor, integrity, commitment, and courage. By the end of his speech, I was so pumped up I would have reenlisted for the duration! I was truly inspired. But then we had a two-mile run in the heat and humidity back to the barracks, and I was again saying to myself, ‘What am I doing here, and what can I do to make it end?’”
This story got me thinking about ways to keep a team motivated. How does a leader inspire his or her charges to be all that they can be, at all times? Here are some thoughts.
Be a communicator.
Learn to listen to your instincts while listening to your team. Being a good communicator is as much about what is done with the ears as it is about what is done with the mouth. Let your team members have their say and make sure they understand that they are being taken seriously. Nothing is more discouraging than feeling like you are not being listened to or that your opinion does not matter.
Know your style and the style of your team.
It is sad to watch a person try to be someone they are not. If your natural style is to be a nurturer and pull people to the destination, intimidation and pushiness will not work for you. On the other hand, if your personality is more that of a challenger, it is going to be difficult for you to cultivate a nurturing bedside manner
You also have to possess the ability to adapt to your team members. Some will respond more to the push and others will need the nurturing. The most successful leaders exploit their own strengths while at the same time adapting to the personality traits of those who look to them for guidance.
In political campaigns, it is not an uncommon tactic to attempt to paint the opponent as insincere, as one who is not committed, as someone who will do and say whatever they must to win favor. Yes, they are painted as a flip-flopper. It is inspiring to the team when the leader is consistent in process and execution. Be thoughtful, then firm in your decisions. Accept responsibility if proven wrong but until that time, have the consistent commitment to the goal. It is a big demotivator to be charging up the hill only to see the leader reverse course.
Include others in your dream.
Your team is more likely to follow you without hesitation if they know the destination. Take the time to explain, encourage, and include team members. Help the team to see the big picture and sell them on the value, both for the team as a whole and for them as individuals. Have short, impromptu team and individual meetings to keep the members fixed on the objectives.
Train, train, and then train some more.
Few things will add to a person’s confidence more than knowledge and few things will add to a person’s motivation more than confidence. Take every opportunity to train your team and make them more capable today than they were yesterday but excited about being even more capable tomorrow.
Don’t resist the temptation to offer training in a nontraditional sense. That impromptu moment on the spot, spending 15 minutes to explain and demonstrate when the opportunity is present, may have lifelong implication.
If it is not natural for you, make a concerted effort to learn to be happy and grateful. People tend to be motivated when they are happy and they tend to be happy when they are in a happy environment. Remember, you are the leader; you set the tone. The speed of the group is never faster than the speed of the leader. It can also be said, the motivation and happiness of the group is never greater than the motivation and happiness of the leader!
So what is the key to motivating your team? The secret is that there is no secret. True and lasting motivation comes from within. Some will have it; some will not. Some can develop it; some will not. As a leader, you can create an environment that makes it easier for motivated people to stay inspired. You can maintain an environment which will help, rather than hinder, the development of personal motivation. In short, you can lead with an attitude of gratitude.
It would be remiss of me if I did not close with a message to that young soldier who was the inspiration for this writing. Thank you. Thank you to you, your brothers, and your sisters for your commitment. It is your selfless sacrifice that motivates and inspires the American public to try to be worthy of your loyalty. And call your family often; they miss you terribly! From me, suffice it to say... "HOO-AH!"