It is common for books on leadership to stipulate that it is impossible for one human being to motivate another. The thought is that motivation is personal, internal and unique to each individual. While one employee might be thrilled to receive a cash bonus, another will prefer to be rewarded by time off or a larger cubicle. So, how does a manager know which of their employees wants which reward and how does that manager use their knowledge to inspire better performance? The short answer is that someone who has decided that they are just a manager will not bother to find out. They will expect performance because they ask for it, because there will be punitive action if it is not given and because someone has designated that they are the in charge. A leader, on the other hand, builds a relationship with each of their direct reports. They ask personal questions to find out what their employees find important both inside and outside of work and then they use that information to deliver rewards and incentives over time.
Consider this; a new worker starts in your department and it is your first chance to interact with them as their boss. In your initial conversation with them you ask about their life outside of work and their family and come to find out that they have two high-school aged children and love to go to the movies. This is the exact kind of information that a leader keeps in their back pocket for the first time that employee achieves a milestone goal or does something above and beyond expected performance. Think how thrilled that employee would be to receive a direct and specific compliment about their stellar performance along with four movie tickets and the afternoon off? Do you think that employee would come back the next morning inspired to work hard and please you, the boss who seemed to really “get them”?
Now picture this scenario, you have a tenured employee who always performs well working at your downtown office. You like having this employee around because they make you look good through the quality of their work. Recently they have appeared down, tired and disengaged. You meet with them and learn that they’ve moved 45 miles away from headquarters (HQ) and their commute has extended exponentially. In fact, they are now much closer to one of your branch offices than they are to HQ and it is clear from your conversation with them that they would prefer to work closer to where they live. What would you do? Are you managing or leading? A manager would do nothing at all. In their mind it would be more important to keep control of the resource than to make an employee happy with their job and in turn the company. Conversely a leader puts the overall good of their employees and their organization ahead of their personal needs and their reputation. This situation would be a prime opportunity to relocate the employee, thereby reinvigorating a good performer and increasing their loyalty to the company as a whole.
Lead rather than manage and you will achieve solid results through the performance of happy employees.