Teaching People Means Reaching People

If you wanna teach ’em you gotta know how to reach ’em.

For some time now there has been a misconception floating around. Some speakers, trainers, managers, and leaders have been saying that no one can motivate anyone else, that all motivation comes from within an individual.

But stop and think. Can’t you remember a time when you were inspired by someone else? Perhaps you had a boss who knew how to make work fun or got you so excited about a project that you produced far beyond your usual capacities. Or maybe you had a mentor who believed in you more than you believed in yourself, and as a result, you achieved things you never thought you could achieve.

Of course you have had times like that. The fact is you can be highly motivated by someone else. When Napoleon was on the field, for example, Wellington said it was the equivalent of fighting against another 40,000 men.

But the reverse is also true. People can be deeply demotivated by the actions of others. A lot of companies have employees who hate their jobs, dislike their colleagues, belittle the product, berate the customer, and distrust the management. And yet no one ever hired anyone like that.

So how did you end up with some of them? Simple. During the course of their employment, some actions were taken that turned those people off.

Quite simply, everything you do impacts the behavior of those around you. And as a consultant, author, and speaker these last twenty years, I’ve learned there are two broad things you must do if you want others to be positive, productive, energetic, and enthusiastic, in other words – motivated to do their very best. You must ACT LIKE A LEADER and COMMUNICATE LIKE A FRIEND.

Of course, there have been thousands of books written on leaders and leadership, and we couldn’t possibly cover all that material here. However, I’ve found six leadership behaviors that make a huge impact on someone else’s behavior. I’ll talk about that this week–and next week I’ll address the second half on how you can communicate like a friend. So how do you “ACT LIKE A LEADER?”

The first thing you must do is CREATE AN EMOTIONALLY EXCITING VISION. People get fired up by a cause or a dream. They work for something they believe in. They don’t work for a company or someone else’s organizational objective such as “increased market share.” Numbers don’t cut it. As Motorola says, the cry of “Shareholder equity! Rah! Rah! Rah!” just doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning. But a compelling vision does!

One way to do that is to give your employees a mighty sense of purpose. Follow the example of the great companies. ServiceMaster (“Honoring God in all we do”), Walt Disney (“We create happiness”), and Southwest Airlines (“Have fun and make a profit”) all have purposes that capture the hearts of their people. It’s exciting to work with a company that cares enough, indeed dares enough, to have a vision of greatness.

However, it’s not enough to simply have a great vision. You’ve got to TALK ABOUT YOUR VISION. Truly great motivators know that well chosen words, repeated often enough, will eventually gain a following. Franklin Roosevelt, for example, was able to coin phrases that summarized his dream, and those phrases motivated a nation. And the whole western world owes its existence to the words of Winston Churchill, words that gave hope in an almost hopeless situation.

And when you talk about your vision, you can’t be afraid of the doomsayers who will object to the vision and say why it can’t be done. You can’t be intimidated by the criticism of others.

Perhaps no one did that as well as Lincoln, who was viciously attacked by the Eastern press. Being a wise and sensitive motivator, he did not ignore his critics, but he also knew he could not motivate people if he tried to please everyone. So he posted this sign: “If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end.”

Third, you need to ACT WITH ENTHUSIASM. If your people see you do little more than put in your time, waiting for the next early retirement program, don’t expect them to be motivated. Rather, show your passion. Let them see it in your actions and hear it in your words. If you’re a leader or aspire to be one, you cannot be shy, reserved, distant, or unavailable.

After all, enthusiasm or the lack of it is contagious. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of going to a store to buy something. You had the money and the store had the merchandise. However, if you walked in and found an apathetic clerk, you probably figured “to heck with it” and walked out. You didn’t want to waste your time with someone who didn’t seem to care.

The same is true in business. If you want your people to get motivated, demonstrate your enthusiasm. When you attack a project with enormous energy, your coworkers take note, and eventually they find themselves affected by your enthusiasm. The reason is quite simple – people love to work for those who love what they are doing. As Emerson said, “Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is a triumph of enthusiasm.”

Then you’ve got to BELIEVE IN YOUR COWORKERS. More than anything else, it is your attitude toward the people in your business that will determine the success or failure of your attempts to motivate them. If the other person knows you expect good things from her, she will–in most cases–go to great lengths to live up to your expectations.

It’s like the banker who often dropped a coin in the beggar’s cup. Unlike most people, the banker would insist on getting one of the pencils the beggar had with him. The banker would say, “You are a merchant, and I always expect to receive good value from the merchants with whom I do business.”

One day the beggar was gone. Some years later the banker walked by a concession stand, and there was the former beggar, now a shopkeeper. The shopkeeper said, “I always hoped you might come by some day. You are largely responsible for me being here. You kept telling me I was a merchant. I started thinking of myself that way. Instead of a beggar receiving gifts, I started selling pencils, lots of them. You gave me self-respect and caused me to look at myself differently.”

Ask yourself, “Do you believe in your coworkers? Do you see the beggar or the merchant in those around you?” It makes all the difference in the world.

If you do believe in them, really believe in them, you’ll DEMONSTRATE UNWAVERING COMMITMENT TO YOUR PEOPLE. That’s not easy. In today’s rapid world of change, you can’t guarantee lifetime employment. You can’t even protect your people from the decisions that may hurt their careers.

However, you can be intensely committed to helping them succeed in the jobs they face. And you can make sure they are employable in the future. AT&T, Raychem, General Electric, Allied Signal, and Allstate Insurance guarantee their people lifetime “employability” by continually training them in the latest personal, professional, and technical skills. Johnsonville Foods encourages its employees to attend any class, regardless of its direct applicability to their current jobs, because they know that a learning employee is an employable employee.

Finally, if you’re going to act like a leader that motivates others, you’ve got to DEMAND EXCELLENCE. Your insistence on excellence is a statement of caring.

By contrast, the easy teacher or laissez-faire manager conveys the message that the organization is not worth caring about and neither are the people. As Superintendent of Schools Bill Honig said, “Kids respect courage. They say, ‘If you don’t make me do it, you don’t care about me’.”

Of course, if you demand excellence, if you refuse to sanction incompetence, if you enforce high standards, you will be temporarily disliked. So be it. While doing a program with Lou Holtz, the great football coach, he said, “If you desperately need people to like you, you’ll never have their respect.” You must be willing to tell people when they do not meet the standards of excellence. You must be willing to correct people’s mistakes.

Leadership is both an art and a science. And the same is true with motivation. You CAN motivate others. You CAN influence others. And today’s Tip is a start in that direction.

But if you really want to master these skills, you should invite me to speak at your next meeting.

Action:  Write out the six behaviors outlined in today’s “Tip.” Then grade yourself on each of the six behaviors–giving yourself a rating of “Excellent,” “Good,” “Fair,” or “Poor.” For each item that you scored yourself as less than “Excellent,” write out one step you can take this week to get better in that area–and then do it.