Since I started to study leadership a few years ago, I could discover different practices and perspectives to deal with the daily challenges of managing people, products, and systems. Like any other skill, you analyze, discard what does not resonate with you, and keep what you think is useful. One thing I kept was the idea that you should not motivate people. You should understand them, their own motivations, and create a space where you can align company goals and people’s intrinsic motivations. That’s the sweet spot, employees feel great, and business goals can be achieved. I appreciate Daniel Pink’s idea of motivation as a sum of autonomy, mastery, and purpose; I can say that’s pretty much what I believed about this matter.
One of these days, I heard from a friend: “we manage others in the same way we like to be managed.” There are nuances about this statement, but I got the idea, and I agree. The curious fact is: I was not aware that we can not use the same techniques with people who are not like you; maybe it does not work. Not all of your direct reports will act and function exactly like you, and it is so easy to fall into the trap to believe everybody, who is not like you, is not enough. That’s when something clicked in my mind, and I could feel I understood the problem for good, on a deeper level.
That management style of not motivating people was a bias that made me treat everybody the same and, consequently, to appreciate more the job of the people who are similar to me and respond better to my leadership style. Understanding human beings and creating an excellent space for them are just a few parts of the challenge. Some professionals need direction and autonomy; others need psychological safety, a sense of belonging, or predictability.
But besides all these environmental factors, sometimes, people need to be reminded they can be way more effective at their job than they currently are, with a specific and clear message.
Yes, even after creating the ideal environment - always my main focus as a manager - you will still see that some people don’t respond the same way and need to start having difficult conversations. That’s where actionable feedback comes into place, and it becomes the tool for personal growth. If you don’t explain the level of greatness you expect from your teams, and you do not coach the people you work with to get there, probably the results won’t be extraordinary. It is way more comfortable to sit down, complain about your direct reports, and leave the situation as it is. But taking a person who is not performing on her maximum and transforming her into an A-player is hard work. It takes time, energy, and an ongoing coaching agenda. However, it is rewarding for you as a manager, for your direct reports and, of course, for the organization.
As a leader, you need to put extra effort and point out the things that are not going great, show a few paths to follow and guide through them, actively. Look, I’m not talking about people who are performing poorly, who don’t have the skills or employees who you don’t know how the hell they were hired in the first place; this is a sad thing you need to take care of. I’m talking about people who could be doing an outstanding job, growing at a fast pace, but for unknown reasons, they have average performance. That’s where serious examination and actions need to happen. That’s where you transform lives, teams, and businesses. In the end, people rise to the level of your expectations of them.