Leading and motivating – “Free pizzas are not enough”

Pizza and ice-cream won’t win hearts and minds. Really understanding what motivates individuals in your team and the impression you leave on them will define how successfully you lead your business.

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9th April 2009 at 9:03 am

Think back to the bosses you’ve had throughout your career. If you’re unlucky there will be some that make your skin crawl or your hackles rise just to think about them, but you may also have been lucky enough to have had some that inspired and encouraged you, and that you are still in touch with and even ask for advice on occasion.

What makes the difference between a good and a bad leader is often less obvious than you might think.

A boss who is blunt, bad-tempered and can’t remember anyone’s name may in the long-term prove the better leader than the boss that is caring, sharing and never has a bad word to say about anyone.

It’s not the way they behave or even the actions they take that marks out the successful leader – it’s the impression they leave on their team and how that influences their team’s behaviour and actions.

Of course different types of people are best motivated by different things and different leadership styles.

I’m sure you are familiar with the numerous personality ‘types’ propounded by psychologists the world over, but whether you call them pragmatists or ‘red’ people, theorists or ‘blue’ personalities, what it pays to remember is that one person’s motivator will be another’s total turn-off.

Take money, for example. A classic leadership mistake is to assume that everyone has a price and that if you have enough hard cash to throw at a person, you can keep them happy. After all, that’s why people change job, right?

Wrong. Money is often the easiest way to avoid discussing what’s really making someone unhappy – that their work-life balance is completely one-sided or that they have bitten off more than they can chew and are worried they don’t have enough support to do the job well.

Of course for some people money is indeed the be-all and end-all, but for many a far bigger motivator is an opportunity to develop new skills or even just have a peaceful and enjoyable life. Flash the cash at these people and what they may see is more responsibility, longer hours and more of what was upsetting them in the first place.

It therefore pays to take time to get to know your team, individually and collectively, so that you can create the right package of motivations to keep them behind you all the way. Providing praise and rewards for continued performance and positive attitude work wonderfully.

Don’t think that just by putting on a few free pizzas at lunchtime or having the boss take ice cream orders on a scorching day, will mean that the team owes you a lifetime of gratitude, but genuinely thoughtful initiatives like this that don’t cost much will usually be accepted in the spirit in which they’re offered – with real enthusiasm.

Back regular, spontaneous and interesting gestures up with a solid and competitive benefits and HR package and you have the basis for a happy company. In particular by showing your own personal, positive leadership and joining the team in having a genuine good time every day, employees will find contentment and stay motivated.

Strong leaders are those that inspire their team to work harder and do better because they can see their own success reflected in that of the business. They lead by example and they use their personality to motivate others. It therefore takes great confidence – in yourself, and in your business – to be this kind of a leader, but never get complacent.

You should always try to look at yourself from your employees’ perspective and think – “would I like me for a boss?”

Ashley Ward

Ashley Ward is a partner in Nexec Partners and programme head of the European Leadership Programme (ELP), a cutting edge training forum helping CEOs of venture capital and private equity backed businesses sharpen the range of skills required to meet shareholder expectation. As a serial CEO for 26 years Ashley led several businesses to sale or IPO including Wharfedale Loudspeakers, Anite Networks and Orchestream. http://www.european-leaders.com/

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