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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Second-Best Motivator

 Other than one’s own self, there is no workplace motivator more powerful than good management.

Good people love to work for good managers, and their work shows it. Not-so-good people may or may not go for good management, but it is their best hope of support for improvement.

Management in the workplace is not an abstract. Its presence in any situation is completely visible, because it is a pattern of actions. There are things managers do, and as they do those things you see what’s going on – and you can evaluate it.

When managerial behavior is positive for the motivation of those in the manager’s group, it is good management. It’s not the whole skill set, because those managers also typically have organizational issues to deal with, as well as their own blizzard of job-related problems, distractions and demands.

Prime Challenge, Prime Opportunity

In fact, the complexity of the management position makes competent time management that much more important for managers. They can’t afford to let any part of the work slip away from them, so they have to be organized. They must be able to respond smoothly and effectively to multiple colliding priorities.

It’s not an easy way of life – and when people management is part of it, that is the prime challenge and opportunity. People management is time-intensive. You can’t do it well on the fly. It has a number of constantly moving parts and can be maddeningly unpredictable. It often demands concentrated attention and tender loving care at just the wrong times.

Yet, the manager can undo years of careful relationship-building by careless slips. No matter what, you must carefully control any surface hint of irritation, impatience or contempt – however richly appropriate it might be. This goes far beyond the ancient admonition, “Never let them see you sweat.”

You can’t expect a member of your group to be understanding of your perfectly natural reaction to unfair or unprofessional conduct. They don’t take responsibility for the cause – they just judge you. The game is rigged, and you lose. Welcome to life in the decision-maker/role-model world.

How Do They?

Because of all that, the really good people manager must supplement top-drawer time management with very strong personal discipline. You train yourself to avoid negative emotion, or never to show it.

How do the good ones do that time-management/mood-management stuff?

Well, there’s no substitute for experience, especially in something as nuanced and demanding as leadership. Books, videos, courses and mentoring advice all are valuable, but you can’t do this well without devoting yourself to it, in the real situation, for some time.

A cautionary note about experience: You can have 30 years of experience and still be terrible at what you do. You must have good experience. Just doing it, in a personal vacuum, doesn’t do it. There must be a conscious ongoing effort, not a particularly easy one.

It calls for engaging discomfort, taking chances, trying to do it right, hitting the potholes, acknowledging shortfalls and tuning up the next attempt. Studying up in advance, and having a mentor during and after, are important. You need to know what to learn, and devote yourself to learning it.

Management Priority One: The Process

The fundamental requirement for the manager is to establish and maintain the process in which the work is done. Good managers devise processes that work. They make sure they understand the desired outcome, the requirements, the constraints, the environment, the resources and the needs of the staff members. The workers must be consulted, and the process must reflect their practical wisdom as well as the expectations of the organization’s decision-makers.

A process never remains current without tending, and it is up to the manager to stay in touch with how it’s working, and adjust it to meet changing needs. Ineffective processes and poor work environments are huge disincentives to working people. The good manager detects and immediately deals with process problems, especially the human ones, but also any others.

This manager makes decisions, the right ones, and makes them right away. No avoidance, and no passing of the buck.

This manager assertively takes responsibility, makes process management and problem solving top priorities, becoming a hero in his/her workplace. Makes this the kind of place where people want to work. Satisfaction of that desire is the most basic motivator of all.

Good workers appreciate the effort they see their manager making to remove impediments as they carry out their assignments. Besides facilitating better results in ways they cannot, it demonstrates to them that the boss cares. They interpret that, correctly, as showing respect.


Respect. That is the prime currency of workplace excellence, the most highly prized form of payment. It tells the recipient what he or she most wants to hear – that you are recognized as a person of high value here. In the end, absolutely nothing engenders deeper and stronger appreciation – and motivation -- than the showing of respect.

Good managers know that, and they know it so intimately that they have perfected the vehicle of respect, a fine-tuned judgment as to how to show respect, and when and in the proper measure.

You know when you’re sincerely respected. You are listened to with attention. There is response and  demonstration of acceptance. Subsequent actions by senior listeners display your earmarks. They tell people about you.

Management of relationships with respect is closely linked to leadership, the ability to see further ahead and higher up – and to persuade others to raise their own eyes, then strive to meet greater expectations.

It all must be capped, and held together, by consistency and follow-through. Nothing is worse than the disappointment of hopes created, then crushed. The motivational manager is totally dependable, absolutely trustworthy. This person makes no promises that aren’t kept.

Who Motivates?

Time management.  Personal discipline. Self-honesty. Persistence. Process Management. Problem Solving. Decision making. Responsibility. Respect. Listening. Follow-through.

That’s the catalogue of managerial behaviors that “motivate” people in the workplace. Oh, and last of all, what really happens in good management: defining for good people the rewards of motivated performance.

Good people motivate themselves. Good managers do all the things that give that motivation somewhere worthwhile to go.

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