Motivation Mojo – improve your team motivation and performance!

This post was originally published on September 16 2019. It is being republished  as a 2019 popular post, over the holiday season.

In this week’s post we are talking employee motivation and how leaders can impact their team with 3 important leadership qualities.

About 12 years ago I was mentoring a new manager. We were talking about a number of topics to do with team performance and ventured onto motivation. I said something about things I had done to help motivate the team. This manager stopped me and said “Do you actually have to motivate them?” He could not believe that a manager would need to do anything to impact this. He explained he was a self-motivated and ambitious person and had never considered that anyone would need to help him get motivated.

When we finished this discussion, I was not entirely sure whether he was convinced that he should even THINK about trying to motivate his team.

Now, in some ways he was right, yet in so many ways he was not. The thing is, you can’t really actually motivate someone. All you can do is help create the right environment and conditions for them. This will include tapping into both intrinsic and extrinsic factors that are important to them.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic?

Intrinsic factors are those that are internal – they might include things like interests, values, preferences and different factors that make them feel good or make them want to take action.

Extrinsic factors are external – they might include things like money, or other rewards, like a car.

Usually these factors are talked about in separate terms, yet I believe that there is overlap. So financial incentives might motivate because of an intrinsic factor – perhaps it appeals to your sense of status – you feel good because you earn a nice salary.

Now the interesting thing about financial and extrinsic rewards, is that they don’t necessarily increase motivation as you would expect. Dan Pink has researched this topic a lot (check out his awesome book ‘Drive’). He cites a study conducted by economists at MIT who found that while increasing financial rewards impacted performance for mechanical, repeatable tasks, it did not have the same impact for tasks requiring cognitive skill i.e. tasks that you have to think even a little about. With tasks that needed even a small amount of cognitive ability, a larger financial reward actually led to poorer performance.

To some of us that may seem counter-intuitive. We think – but money is important! Well it is, so Dan talks about paying people enough so that money is not an issue, not something they worry about. But simply continuing to increase their pay won’t directly lead to proportionally better performance after this.

To get that increasing performance, we need to tap into deeper motivators, intrinsic motivators – things like achieving results, working in teams, improving skills, having purpose.

Well, actually it is a balance of using extrinsic and intrinsic motivators, plus an understanding of what motivates yet also what demotivates. The work of Frederick Herzberg is worth exploring. I love his approach called Motivation-Hygiene Theory, or Two-factor theory. Basically the premise is that certain aspects of jobs can be linked to satisfaction, while others can be linked to dissatisfaction. And it’s important to address both – so eliminate the areas of dissatisfaction AND add the elements require for satisfaction.

Why try to influence others’ motivation?

Let’s take a step back here – why do we want to influence people’s motivations in the first place? Going back to the new manager – do we as leaders really have to help people get motivated?

Well, yes we do if we want to have a successful team and be a positive leader.

There are 3 main reasons:

  • We are ultimately responsible for the output and outcomes of those we manage and lead. If we can positively impact people we can positively impact individual and team performance.
  • We can influence the environment those people work in due to our leadership skills, decision making or resource management.
  • People need people – as humans we are wired to want to belong and work together. So having your manager interested in supporting your motivational drivers is in itself motivational, because you feel valued.

What motivates you?

Let’s forget others for a moment…we will come back to that, yet understanding ourselves first is important to understanding motivation.

So, first question – what motivates you?

Struggling to answer? The first thing to know about understanding and influencing others’ motivation is that we need to ask them, yet we have to be smart about our questions, because “What motivates you?” can be a hard question to answer for many people.  So we might need to rephrase this question in other ways. And just one question may not be enough to explore this!

  • When do you feel most energised at work?
  • What professional interests do you wish you could spend more time on?
  • What sort of environment gets the best out of you?
  • Which tasks do you love doing?

These are just 4 questions that can reveal a lot about what motivates you. What other questions might you use?

How motivated are you?

Still on ourselves, now consider how motivated you are overall at work at the moment.

On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being not motivated and 10 being extremely motivated – where would you sit on that scale?

Now think about where you would like to be on that scale most of the time? If it’s higher than what it is now, what would it take to get you where you need to be?

The reason I ask you to think about yourself first, is that understanding motivation can be complex, because it is a complex topic – it’s dealing with humans, for a start, and those humans have emotions, life stresses, varying skills, knowledge and experience, different preferences for how they like to work, how they make decisions and how they organise their world. These humans have different needs for how they interact with others, their personality style, interests. And motivation, like emotions and energy can ebb and flow naturally over the course of a day, a week and a lifetime.

OK, you get the picture, it’s complex.

So to understand motivation, we need to start with the human we hopefully know best, ourself! Our knowledge about ourselves allows us to reflect and explore motivation before we try to gain knowledge about others. And when it comes to others we then add the caveat that they likely won’t be motivated by the same things as us!

What leadership skills are important?

So what are the 3 leadership skills that give us our ‘Motivation Mojo’, as I call it?

  1. Curiosity
  2. Empathy
  3. Creativity


Without curiosity, you will not optimise your motivational skills as a leader. And it can be tricky to be genuinely curious or interested when we are tired, busy or demotivated ourselves! We still need to find a way to get curious, to see the benefits and start asking some amazing questions.

If you don’t ask your people for their thoughts, feelings and ideas, you will only ever be guessing about their motivations or demotivations as the case may be. And we might assume we know the answer to their needs, when they have a better idea themselves!

So we get curious and ask great questions – open questions that get people thinking and talking.

When we ask questions, we aim to truly listen and be genuinely interested in what is being said – not thinking about ourself, or jumping to conclusions. Just listening to what is said, and equally listening for what is NOT said.

Curiosity is also about keen observation – watching what’s happening around you and with the team. How do team interactions look? What is body language telling you about someone’s energy or interest level?

And finally, be curious about results, and particularly any variance. How well are people performing toward their goals or task achievements? Are they tracking well to meet expectations? Has someone suddenly overachieved or excelled? What might be the cause of that? And on the flip side, has anyone suddenly dropped their performance? What are the possible causes?



It’s all very well to be curious, yet what can we do with that information effectively, if we don’t have empathy? Empathy helps us see things from someone else’s perspective and to understand what’s important to them. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with their perspective, or solve an issue that’s troubling them. It’s all just about understanding.

With motivation, empathy enables us to listen to answers people give to our questions without judgement. Once we understand, we can help support them in their motivation.

Empathy allows us to suspend our own needs and focus on what’s needed for someone else. It helps us balance our drive for results with exploring the best way to get there. It helps us know what will get the best out of someone with a different outlook to ours, and likely different motivational drivers.

Curiosity and empathy go hand in hand.



This one may be a little less than obvious. Creativity with motivation is all about being a leader who actively looks for ways to tap into people motivational drivers, or to minimise the impacts of things that are demotivating their people.

People may be motivated by things that are not available in a particular work role, or motivated yet lacking in skills. Or interested in an area where there is no opportunity currently.

People might be demotivated by things that are not able to be changed – like policies for example. They might be dissatisfied by aspects where there is no resource available to solve.

So leaders do need to think outside the square to solve motivational challenges. And equally be open to creativity from employees, who might have ideas about solutions that are a little unconventional.

Think differently, think laterally. Look for solutions in other industries or circumstances. Look for ways of offering opportunity that partly addresses a desire, or addresses it in an unusual way. Look for ways to explain and promote projects or tasks to link them to motivational drivers.


In this post we have only scratched the surface on employee motivation. there is so much more to think about!

If you would like more help motivating your employees, or some assistance with other leadership challenges, then our Members Community has loads of resources waiting for you! For more information, click here.

We have a free resource to help further with team motivation and performance. If you would like something to make life easier with this aspect of team leadership, then sign up for this resource below.

Much Motivation Mojo to you!

Share the joy

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.