Connect to Engage

As a newly-promoted leader to the position of a project manager years ago, one of the most daunting tasks that I faced was the motivation of my team members. These were my former colleagues. We worked together as peers on project teams, and my technical expertise was recognized by many of them. Rarely were my proposed solutions and recommendations challenged.

In my naiveté, I thought this implicit trust would carry over now that I was the leader of the team. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Suddenly, I was being challenged on virtually everything by the same people I thought held me in high esteem.

One of the most important tasks for a leader is the motivation of their team members. Yet, this is also arguably the most difficult responsibility of a leader. How do you motivate and engage a team of people with diverse interests and backgrounds towards the achievement of a common goal?

Not too long ago, the use of incentives and punishments to motivate were very popular. But that’s no longer the case. Today’s workforce does not accept the autocratic style often adopted by leaders following historical models of leadership. Leadership has had to (and continues to) evolve, to match a growing sense of democracy and independence in the workforce. Most employees now have far more options and choices than the foot soldiers of yesterday.

From the first time I led a team until today, I’ve learned a few things that can help to engage and motivate people. Here are the five I consider most important.

  1. Get to know your people. Many leaders don’t know themselves well enough, and most don’t really know their people. To engage and motivate your team, you must understand who they are individually. What motivates one person may not motivate another. As you understand your personality and the various personalities that make up your team, you’ll be better equipped to motivate them.
  2. Connect with them at a personal level. Renowned leader and author, John C. Maxwell had famously said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Going the extra mile to truly connect and build rapport with your people is one of the steps in building trust. Make an effort to add value to them in their personal and professional lives.
  3. Ask them for feedback. One of the ways to build morale within a team is for the leader to regularly ask for inputs and feedback on their performance from their team members. It shows that you value them and what they bring to the table. Remember however, that people tend to give feedback in the same way they prefer to receive it. If the feedback comes back in a manner you perceive as being harsh, don’t take it out on them. You will cut off the flow. Be graceful and humble in receiving what they tell you even when you think they’re wrong.
  4. Work at improving you emotional intelligence (EQ). Leaders who do not possess EQ undermine their teams and team morale. Such leaders will find it difficult to motivate their team members. The level of competence a team achieves is in direct proportion to the strength of the leader. EQ has been found to be strongest predictor of success in all jobs and positions. Take an assessment and find a coach to help you improve your emotional intelligence.
  5. Continue to learn and growth. A good leader must always be a life-long learner. No one knows it all. Learn all you need to know and know what you need to learn. Understand your strength and weaknesses, and bring people around you, who will complement you and help you see what you’re usually blind to.

In general, a leader’s ability to form strong individual relationships with each member of their team is very critical in building high engagement teams. The needs of teams and of the individuals in those teams change every time. Leaders must continually adapt to those changing needs if they want to keep their people motivated. Leaders who are constantly checking the pulse of their teams and learning about new ways to boost morale will always be relevant and in high demand. According to an article in the Leadership Advantage Newsletter (Vol. IV, Number 3), “a leader skilled in creating good feelings can keep cooperation high. Good team leaders know how to balance the focus on productivity with attention to member’s relationships and their ability to connect.

As you continue to learn to navigate the balancing act of connecting with your people, focusing on the bottom line and growing as a leader, you will continue to be relevant in today’s constantly changing economic landscape.

There’s no other way.