What Brings Out the Best in Others?

“Tell me how a person judges his or her self-esteem and I will tell you how that person operates at work.”
Nathaniel Branden, psychiatrist


motivating employees the right way by building self-esteemWhen I was sharing the platform with Lou Holtz, the legendary football coach, he told the audience, “Motivation is simple. You eliminate those who are not motivated.”

We all laughed a bit and then we realized there was also a great deal of truth in what he had to say. Motivation WOULD be simple if we COULD just fire, eliminate, or extricate the difficult or non-performing people in our workplaces and homes.

In reality, we are stuck working and living with some people that we may not like and who may not be motivated. So if we want any quality of life at all, we MUST learn how to motivate the best in others. That’s why the entire second day of my “Journey to the Extraordinary” program is focused on motivation, cooperation, and what it takes to build positive, productive relationships with others.

To get you started, however, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to motivating others.

1. Do build the self-esteem of others.

After all, a person’s self-image and performance go hand in hand. If a person feels that he has very little of value to offer, he will typically do a substandard job. But if a person has pride in what he does, is enthusiastic about his job, and believes he can do a great job, more often than not that is exactly what he will do.

That being said … it truly pays off when you build the self-esteem of others. Catch them doing something right. Give appropriate praise. Communicate your belief in the other person.

That’s what John Biggi, the Director of Service Operations at Northwest Pump, did after he attended my “Journey to the Extraordinary” experience. He sent me a note saying, “I have used the positive reinforcements with my 12-year old daughter, Megan, and her swimming. Needless to say, it has worked like a charm. She has continued to drop her times in all of her events. Yesterday, she dropped 10 seconds off of her personal best in the 100 IM. Thanks for all of the tools that you shared during the Journey. It is the best seminar that I have ever attended!”

Likewise, refrain from behaviors that destroy the self-esteem of others. As I tell my audiences, when you belittle others, you get little from them. So don’t make fun of people or the work they do. If a person doesn’t perform the way you would like, criticize the behavior rather than the person.

For example, if a person doesn’t follow through on a promise, don’t yell at the person and say something like “What’s wrong with YOU? How could YOU have let us down?” Instead, try something like “When you didn’t keep your promise, it put the whole team behind schedule.” Notice the second statement focuses on the poor behavior and the consequences of that behavior rather than saying YOU are a bad person. You give the feedback but still preserve the other person’s self-esteem.

2. Don’t promote a person without corresponding compensation.

If you’re a manager, don’t ask employees to keep taking on more responsibility without additional compensation. As talent expert Faith Ralston says, “Employees want to be loyal and do a good job for you. But if their pay is not aligned with new roles you ask them to take – they feel used.”

So go to bat for increased employee compensation when you want to promote someone. Dig into pay discrepancy issues. Don’t wait for the employee to come to you. Be proactive. Develop a reputation of being fair and standing up for your people.

3. Do demonstrate deep caring for the other person.

Even though it’s an old statement it’s still very much true … that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Caring releases a ton of motivation inside of others.

Rick Phillips talked about that in the book “The New Heart At Work.” As he said, he does a lot of management training for the Circle K Corporation, a national chain of convenience stores. He addresses the topic of retention, in particular the retention of quality employees in a service industry that does not pay very well.

In one class, he asked the participants, “What has caused you to stay long enough to become a manager?” One manager, with her voice almost breaking, said, “It was a $19 baseball glove.”

Cynthia told the group that she originally took a Circle K clerk job as an interim position while she looked for something better. On her second or third day behind the counter, she received a phone call from her nine-year old son, Jessie. He needed a baseball glove for Little League. She explained that as a single mother, money was very tight and her first check would have to go for paying bills. Perhaps she could buy his baseball glove with her second or third check.

When Cynthia arrived for work the next morning, Patricia, the store manager, asked her to come to the small room in back of the store that served as an office. Cynthia wondered if she had done something wrong or left some part of her job incomplete from the day before. She was concerned and confused.

Patricia handed her a box. “I overheard you talking to your son yesterday,” she said, “and I know that it is hard to explain things to kids. This is a baseball glove for Jessie because he may not understand how important he is, even though you have to pay bills before you can buy gloves. You know we can’t pay good people like you as much as we would like to; but we do care, and I want you to know you are important to us.”

The thoughtfulness, empathy and love of this convenience store manager demonstrates vividly that people remember more how much an employer cares than how much the employer pays. An important lesson for the price of a Little League baseball glove.

4. Don’t expect your top performers to compensate for your low performers.

Your best and brightest employees are very capable and it’s all too easy to let them pick up the slack when other employees lack skill or motivation. But don’t do it. This is very dangerous because your best people will resent it and/or leave.

Instead, address performance issues head on. Let employees know it’s not their job to fix somebody else’s problem. Invite individuals to share their concerns about work that isn’t getting done. Then do something about it. You’ll motivate lots of people that way.

You have the power to motivate or bring out the best in others. These tips will get you started.


Focus on building esteem in others this week, and next week, and the week after and you will like the results you get.