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The One Thing You Must Do to Motivate Your Team

It's easy to manage on autopilot, but what your people need most is personalized attention and feedback.

One of my favorite tales is that Thomas Edison would sit down to a meal with someone and watch him or her closely. If that person salted his or her soup before tasting it, he would never hire him or her. Why? Because this action spoke volumes about a person's willingness to be open-minded and gather data from a neutral stance before drawing any conclusions.

As an entrepreneur, I view myself first and foremost as a scientist. My science is investing. Looking at the markets objectively, through the lens of data, has always served me very well. As CEO of LexION Capital, however, I don a different hat: Head Manager. I call on the same data-driven approach to help steer my management skills. When you gather data and observe each individual employee, you can collaborate strategically. When you don't, you risk missing game-changing opportunities.

To be a successful manager and entrepreneur, you have to ask youself: Do I taste the soup and season appropriately on a case-by-case basis? Or am I making the blanket presumption that most of the time, soup needs salt, and applying a one-size-fits-all automatic response? 

How to Gather and Analyze Data About Your Team Members

Exhibit A: Two employees each received the same training and the same initial management style. When I checked in with them, one employee said that he or she had never been so micromanaged. The other said he or she needed more direction. Who's right? Both of them.

Everyone responds to feedback differently. Getting to know how to inspire an employee's best work means that you also need to be flexible with how you structure his or her work and how you receive his or her feedback. This takes time. As critical as this data-gathering phase is, most people spend too little time on it. Don't. Keep an open mind, allow plenty of time to observe the situation, and take note of objective data.

At LexION, the ethos is feedback, not failure. That means I need to be able to receive tough feedback from my employees, just as I expect them to do from me. As a manager, your role here is also role model. Respond with the same open-minded and balanced approach as you hope they will.

I want all team members to be intra-preneurs, to have an entrepreneurial mindset within our growing company. I frequently use a "three ups, three downs" system to get feedback on a wide range of issues. I ask that team members independently generate three positive points and three negative points about an idea or proposal and submit them to me in writing. The written feedback means that one person's strong opinions will not bias the ideas of others. There is intentionally no discussion or collaboration in this exercise. It forces balance, because each person has to come up with three positive things about a situation and three ways to improve it. It requires 360-degree perspective.

For some employees, this perspective is natural, and for others, it has taken some time. As we are a team of unlikely activists--the anti-Wall Street Wall Streeters--the three ups/three downs system helps us work together, remain happier, and allows me to harness creative thinking from all angles, not just my own. At LexION, I know that I hardly hold a monopoly on good ideas. The most innovative solutions come from all of us, and helpful insight can emerge from surprising sources.

Do yourself the favor of casting a wide net for information. To make the best decisions for your business, know when it’s time to take off your CEO cap and replace it with another chapeau from the endless rotation--in this case, that of Data Scientist.

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Last updated: Jun 12, 2014

ELLE KAPLAN | Columnist | CEO, Lexion Capital Management

A finance expert and self-made entrepreneur, Elle Kaplan is the CEO and founding partner of Lexion Capital Management, the only 100 percent woman-owned asset management firm in the U.S.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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