Leaders: What is Your Motivation Style?

by Alli Polin on November 20, 2012

Leaders: How Do you Motivate?

My son hates to read.  Over the past few months, when he’s been willing to sit with us and try, even a little bit, we’ve tried to motivate him.

  • We’ve been positive: “You’re doing a great job!”  “We know you can do it!”  “We believe in you!”
  • We’ve also tried some tactics that got less than impressive results: “Come on!  You’re not really trying.”
  • We’ve even paid for progress: “How much do we need to pay you to read 10 pages?  $1.00?” “If you read, you’ll get a prize!”

Turns out we’ve finally hit on what works for him but it wasn’t what we tried for the first 100 times he was at bat with a book.

It’s hard, when you’re just starting out, to push through the tough parts and continue to make progress.

Leaders, we’re the ones that help people to motivate to keep moving forward.  It’s our job to motivate and inspire the people on our teams in both work and in life to do more than even they thought was possible. Unfortunately, motivation most definitely does not come in one-size fits all.  We’re all unique with our own experiences, personalities and styles and what motivates me may not motivate you.

What’s Your Default Motivation Style?

Cheerleader:  Rah-rah-sis-boom-bah!  Cheerleaders make a strategic appearance when people don’t believe in themselves but you just know that they can do it!  Motivation can skyrocket simply from spreading honest, heart-felt positive belief.  When leaders are authentic with their praise, people feel it and respond with a greater ability to persevere through tough times.

You Suck:  Telling people that they’re not up to par can make some people actually improve their performance.  Motivation to prove the naysayer wrong can be a powerful push to make a difference.

Lottery:  Rewards can be extremely motivating.  Leaders that experiment with offering rewards learn which rewards are most meaningful to the people on their teams.  Is it $100, a t-shirt, a day off or their name going on a plaque?  The trick with lottery motivation is to be clear what can be “won” through their hard work and effort and to make it attainable.

Catcher:  It’s easy to point out things that people are doing wrong when a leader is in correction mode.  Motivation comes from pointing out things that people are doing right.  Catchers offer timely and specific feedback on things that are going well, celebrate the success, and top it off with an enthusiastic request for more of that, please!

Nest Pusher: Like to push people out of the nest to get them to fly? You may be a Nest Pusher motivator.  When leaders empower and fully give people on their teams both accountability and responsibility, some people will start to flap their metaphorical wings.  The people that soar under a Nest Pusher are motivated by both the belief that they’ve been empowered and also the desire not to crash into the ground.

Which One Should You Be? 

That’s the $64,000 question when it comes to supporting and motivating others.

Here’s the Answer

It’s not about what you want – it’s about the other person, the team.  It’s all about what will not only spark someone else into action but also to be and do their best.

We discovered with my son that he needed us to be Catchers.  Now when he reads, we write down all of the words he gets right.  At the end of the book we count the list and celebrate his results.  When we finally accepted that what motivated his sister to read (Cheerleader), didn’t work for him, his ability to motivate himself leaped forward too.

Your job as a leader is to be present, connected and in touch with the people on your team.  Get to know them and who they are.  Through listening and being a part of the team, instead of leading from above, it will become clear if you need to bring out the pom-poms or the tough love.

What have you found motivates people on your team in life or at work?  Please share in the comments below so we can all learn from your experience.

(Photo credit)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Ritchie November 22, 2012 at 5:57 pm

A great post Alli!

Yes, the trick is to find out what motivates others and provide what they need – my family all need the cheerleader approach, myself included!


alli November 23, 2012 at 12:06 am

Thanks for your comment, Sue! Cheerleaders make a big difference! It’s great when you know that someone truly believes in you and is 100% in your corner.


Lori Gosselin November 23, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Alli! This is good stuff here! We have to be different motivators for each motivatee!
I always noticed that what motivated my daughter didn’t work at all with my son. I learned something about this from Anthony Robbins, but I’ve never seen the different styles laid out like this! Well done!


alli November 24, 2012 at 1:05 am

Thank you, Lori! You’re right! It’s not about what we would want or even what our default style is… it’s about flexing to meet, motivate, and inspire someone where they are.


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