One of the key roles any leader plays is finding ways to motivate your team to reach your organization's goals. But the secret to motivating people is, wait for it .....that you can't do it. I have studied this issue by talking to and working with thousands of people over many years and the one thing everyone can agree on is that you can't motivate someone to do what they don't want to do.

What you need to do instead is find out what people want and then show them how they can get it. Motivation is intrinsic. People get excited about pursuing a goal when it's in their own self-interest. As a leader, the trick is to see if you can find an alignment between what your people want and what will help grow the organization.

The upside is that if you can tap into the underlying desires people have, you will get amazing performances in return from them.

The first step in finding what motivates someone is to make the time to listen to him or her and find out what they actually want out of their job.

Now you might be thinking, well, Jim, that's simple: everyone wants more money, a bigger title, time off, and an easy job. But those things don't really hold true for most people. It's been my experience that the vast majority of folks want fair compensation and opportunities to pursue challenging and interesting work because we all need to do something during our time on this planet. Some people are driven by mental stimulation, others by meeting lots of people and connecting - people are all different.

The key is to not make assumptions about what you think someone wants; this isn't about employing a command-and-control approach where you give them orders to charge a hill. Rather, you need to actually ask them what they want.

Maybe they do want a new big title, or maybe even more time off to spend with their family. Maybe it's about making more money to buy a new truck or send their kid to college. The point is you won't know what truly motivates someone until you make the time to understand what he or she wants from life.

That leads us to the second step: show people how they can get what they want. Now this might take some creativity on your part. If someone wants to become a VP one day, for instance, you'll need to come up with the plan of attack that if they do what you ask them to, they will receive their reward in return. (You can also ready my recent post on how someone can earn a promotion.)

The final secret of being a great leader is to find ways that allow your people to get what they want while also benefiting the organization. That rule doesn't apply to just the office either. It can work in our personal lives as well.

As an example, let me share a personal story. When I was young, I remember wanting to buy a stereo for my room so I could listen to my music. I didn't want anything too crazy: the unit I had my eyes and ears on ran about $100. I remember telling my dad what I wanted, which he thought was great. He even said he would pay for half of it. While that was generous of him, I didn't have any other money for my purchase. So my dad gave me a list of extra chores I could do around the house, like tackling yard work such as raking the leaves and building a stone wall, which he would pay me for to help earn the other half of the money I needed to buy the stereo.

That was all I needed to hear: I became a dynamo of energy as I tackled a set of chores I might have otherwise hated doing. The difference was I was doing them to get what I wanted. Meanwhile, my dad also got work done in a way that freed him up to do other things (like watch football on a Sunday afternoon). That's what made the whole thing a true win-win for everyone.

Again, the real secret to motivating people is finding a way to find alignment between their personal goals and your desired outcomes. When you can do that, everyone wins.

Published on: Oct 25, 2016