Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


10 Tips for Leaders to Motivate Employees

Volume: October 2014

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com


One of the most frequent questions I am asked is: “How can I motivate my employees?” There is no simple answer to this question. Especially since motivation comes from inside us. Therefore, what I believe leaders are really asking is: “What actions can I take and what environment can I create that will unleash my team’s potential and create positive energy?” Now, that is a question to which I have many suggestions. Ten of them, as a matter of fact.   


  1. Expect a lot. The best leaders I know have very high expectations for team members. They expect them to work smart, get along with their colleagues, and produce world-class results. High performing team members are inspired by this type of leader and this type of atmosphere. If you want a mediocre team, have laisse-faire goals and be self-centered. If you want a motivated and successful team, share your expectations frequently and always expect excellence.

  3. Lavish praise. Have you ever seen a six year old light up because someone told them they just did something wonderful? It is a beautiful sight. Now, I am not implying that you work with a bunch of six year olds. What I am asking is this: Since we have grown up, have we really changed that much with regard to what energizes us? I think not. Therefore, recognize the Herculean efforts of your people and lavish praise upon them. Are they just doing their jobs? Well, if your employees are doing it right, let them know you appreciate it. And share your praise in an authentic and appreciative way.

  5. Delegate tasty projects. Nothing motives team members (particularly high performers) quite like entrusting them with an important initiative. The trust and confidence that is built when delegating something important is priceless. Not only does effective delegation motivate employees, but it serves as a great mechanism for developing their skills. When delegating, make certain to communicate the specific time frame in which you expect completion. Also, if you want to receive an update, ask for one. Finally, effective delegators clearly state what resources are available and if they have any availability to help out along the way.    

  7. Communicate like crazy. Leaders who clearly communicate “The State of The Workplace” on a frequent basis effectively kill the grapevine. That’s right, the more you communicate what is going on, the less gossip will be experienced in your organization. This is a good thing because gossip and the garbage that it spreads creates distractions and de-motivation. By crushing the grapevine, you motivate your team and effectively increase productivity.   

  9. Demand innovation. Do not just encourage innovation, demand it. We live in a quickly changing work world. The more forward-thinking your team members, the better your organization will be served. So many of the innovative answers you seek are right under your nose. Dust off that suggestion box and encourage people to share ideas. Do not make fun of the crazy ideas you come across. Nurture the individual and collective creativity that your team members possess. A million dollar idea awaits. It is the leader’s job to coax innovation into the open.

  11. Training mania. There are a bevy of reasons to enable professional training. I will highlight five. The first is that workplace training increases the quality of output. The second is that well-trained team members are more productive. The third is that better trained teams have more bandwidth and a great ability to take on more complicated initiatives. The fourth reason is that bench strength is increased, which can lead to better succession planning and less drama if turnover is experienced. The final reason is that training is an essential retention tool for keeping high-performers and younger workers.

  13. Match décor with culture. The physical environment in which people work can greatly influence their demeanor and contributions. Choose colors, desks, signs, and lighting that amplify your organization’s culture (or desired culture). In other words, if you want an ultra-professional team, have a professional environment; if you want a high-energy team, notch up those colors and get modern with your furniture.

  15. Coach top performers. A leader’s time is precious. As such, give it to the most deserving people on your team. This means focusing on your top performers and high-potential team members. From a humanistic standpoint we gravitate toward helping (and spending a boatload of time with) our poorest performers. They also tend to be the squeaky wheels in the office. This may sound harsh, but it is time to free yourself from using the majority of your coaching and development time on poor performers. The time that leaders spend with low performers typically delivers a lousy return-on-investment. Instead, invest your precious time on your most valuable resources – your best performers and your future top talent. In the process, your added attention will motivate your best people and help the overall team to soar even higher.  

  17. Be a Visionary Leader. This ties back to “communicate like crazy” from the aspect of sharing important information with your team. The critical information in this instance involves three components: Where your organization is going; why your organization is going there; and how each team member fits into your organization’s journey. While many good leaders communicate the first two items, the best leaders share all three (i.e., the where, the why, and the how). If you want to work with the most motivated group of people possible, help them to clearly understand the direction of the organization, the logic behind the strategic direction, and just how the heck they will significantly contribute to the team’s ultimate success. 

  19. Celebrate wins. Famed UCLA football coach Red Sanders was fond of saying: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” We all like to win, yet frequently leaders only notice losses and errors. The odds are good that your team members are doing a LOT more right than they are wrong. Catch those right moves. Figure out a way to celebrate wins and positive contributions. Better yet, ask your team how they want to celebrate. Their suggestions may surprise you. Celebration lifts the human spirit. It also builds team morale and sets a positive tone in the workplace. My strong recommendation is celebrate more. You may just find a more motivated team as a result of your celebratory actions.


Bottom Line: Motivation comes from within us. As such, the best leaders find ways to unlock more of what team members have inside them. The more you communicate, delegate, and celebrate the more your team will be pointed in a positive direction. In the process, share your vision and praise. And always maintain high expectations. In the end, your efforts will be richly rewarded as team members strive to achieve great results, remain engaged to your mission, and experience self-satisfaction on their journey.


Until next time, be well. 


Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based executive coach, leadership development expert, and strategic planner. To learn more about leadership development programs, coaching, strategic planning, and consulting services, visit www.leadershipsimplified.com or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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