"I just can't seem to reach that guy. Got any suggestions how I might motivate him?"
That is a question many managers face, and for that reason I found a recent Bloomberg/Businessweek column by Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, to be very helpful. Before I read Emanuel's article, I would not have considered him a source of insight into the motivational process.
After all, Emanuel's style as President Barack Obama's chief of staff, and earlier as a key aide to President Bill Clinton, was, to put it lightly, smash-mouth, profanity-laced, and take no prisoners. Perhaps as Chicago's chief elected official Emanuel has learned something from his previous bosses about how to get the best from those you manage.
"You have to know the people you work with," writes Emanuel. I agree; that should be your first consideration. It's easy to say but not so simple to do. Saying hell to people is not the same as knowing them. It is a matter of knowing their likes and dislikes, and most importantly what gets them up in the morning.
Some of this can emerge during a hiring interview, but very often it can come from having an open and honest conversation with an employee about what he wants to achieve.
Also, know that leaders don't actually motivate employees. Motivation is intrinsic and therefore individuals motivate themselves to succeed. It is up to leaders to create conditions for motivation to occur.
Here are four motivational techniques that Emanuel and many other effective leaders use.
Pure and simple. Some people love to compete for what they get. Sales people are this way, as are athletes. So talking up what the competition or a rival is doing can get the motivational engines humming.
We all want recognition. Some leaders frame a challenge as: 'If you do this, you will be in line for [fill in the blank].' Blank could be a raise, a bonus, or a promotion. Enticement is not restricted to self-interest. For senior leaders it may be new opportunity for the company to be recognized.
We all need bucking up from time to time. Legendary football coach Bo Schembechler used to say that his team needed encouraging words more when they were down than when they were up. He might scream when they were winning, but he would pat them on the back when the going got tough--as long as they were putting in the effort. Managers should do the same.
We all like to be part of something larger than ourselves. Giving individuals and the team a goal to reach, or an obstacle to overcome, can be invigorating.
Keep in mind these techniques must be tailored to specific individuals. When it comes to reaching people, one size does not fit all. Some folks shy from competition; they don't like it, and do not respond to it. Others do not need explicit encouragement, per se; they want to be pushed and cajoled.
One technique that Emanuel, as well as other "tough guy types" use: humor. You have to make light of the situation, especially when working in high-pressure situations. The best leaders I know make light of themselves first. They poke fun at their foibles before turning someone else into a target. And they're also receptive to others jabs.
That said, as a leader, keep in mind that you are not in the business of making friends with employees. Discipline is essential to good order as our military preaches. Creating conditions for success does not mean putting up with missed deadlines, absenteeism, sloppy work, and negative behaviors. You want respect. You earn it by doing what is best for the team and every team needs discipline.
Emanuel underscores a key point about motivation. "None of this works if people don't trust you," he says. Earning trust is no laughing matter. It emerges by doing what is right, and leading by example. The leader who is the first one into the office and the last one to leave, and willing to come in on weekends, is the kind of boss others want to follow, especially if those others are asked to do the same.