When you think about influencing or motivating someone in business, what tools do you think of using? How do you think of motivating people?
Did you think of incentive-based tools based in authority, like bonuses, promotions, raises, increasing or decreasing someone’s responsibilities, threat of firing, threat of demotion, and the like? In my experience, most people do. Why not? We’re used to seeing them used. They work fairly predictably—almost nobody prefers no raise to a raise. We’re used to experiencing others use on them on us. We can easily see them used and measure their effects.
These tools fail you when you want to motivate someone you don’t have authority over. Who might you want to lead that you don’t have authority over?
If the phrase “People join good projects and leave bad management” makes you smile and cringe the same as nearly everyone else, you know the experience of a manager who doesn’t understand or support you and you don’t like it. If you only know to lead through authority-based tools, you probably concluded you had only two choices—to accept discouraging management that made you miserable or leave. If you left, you probably learned that finding new positions is just gambling. Your next manager might make you feel worse.
Nearly every client I work with has problems with their manager. Actually, nearly everyone I know with a manager has some problems with their manager. They tell me stories of how their managers misunderstand them, don’t listen, don’t challenge them, don’t use them to their potential, and so on, leading to them to resent their managers and want to leave to advance, even as they see room for great projects that would benefit the company and make their manager look good. If only they’d listen.
Working in a small company that has to do business with big companies forces you to work with people you have no authority over. Starting my companies forced me to work in this environment and many of my clients contact me because they want to think or behave more entrepreneurially. You have to learn skills to motivate people without authority.
So the top people you probably want to know how to lead that you don’t have authority over are your manager and people outside your firm. We can add to that list anyone at your firm who doesn’t report to you.
If you only think of authority-based tools—tools based on external incentives—you’re at a loss in these situations, your loss because you’ll feel miserable at your job and may soon give up trying to do anything about it. People like that think trying to motivate people without external incentives means working at a disadvantage.
A different perspective suggests otherwise.
Think of great leaders in history. You probably thought of people who led without using authority-based tools. Martin Luther King had no authority over the millions of people who followed him. Nor did Gandhi or Mandela. Even famous military leaders with strong authority-based tools at their command tend to use that authority sparingly. Now think of the most reviled leaders in history. You probably thought of people who led using the most authority-based tools.
So you know other tools exist and that they work.
A solution that works
What do you do if you want to motivate and influence people if you can’t use external incentives? You have to rely on internal motivations—emotions. That means using different skills. These skills don’t cause effects as visible and superficially visible as external incentives, but when you know how to use them they motivate people more deeply and for longer. People you lead with them will tell you they feel inspired, liberated, and that they own the project. The tools don’t seem as predictable if you don’t know how to use them, but they are when you do.
As importantly, they’ll help you enjoy your job and relationships with people more. Once you get how to lead based on internal motivations, you’ll look at using external incentives more like guiding than leading. You may have little alternative in short-term relationships or ones where you don’t interact much—I’m not saying you should never use external incentives—but you’ll realize their limitations and that they undermine emotion-based tools.
Helping clients improve their relationships with their managers and understanding what works in entrepreneurship revealed what worked, why, under what conditions, and how to teach others the skills. When clients tell me their relationships with their managers turned around in a week or when I see seminar attendees’ eyes light up during the exercises and they raise their hands to tell me what it felt like to lead someone this way, or to share how it felt to be led this way, it motivates me to teach it more.
A lot of the solution is in these posts, “My boss sucks. How do I manage my manager?” and “How to make someone feel understood: confirm and let them correct you“. I’ll keep working on writing it more fully. In the meantime, come to my seminar. Then you’ll end up saying things like past attendees said,
“I signed up for Joshâ€™s leadership seminar not really knowing what to expect. I walked away with a clear, understandable framework not only for providing effective leadership, but for creating lasting and meaningful relationships with colleagues and teammates. Joshâ€™s method of emotional connection gets to the core of the needs we all share as human beings. His techniques can help anyone become a better leader â€“ and a more fulfilled person overall.”
“I am running a startup that offers document security and tracking easily and cost-effectively. I enjoyed your course a lot and already applied your principles in the way I collaborate with my co-founder. We recently had an argument over a deliverable. I was initially planning to have a confrontational discussion, which would have created a rift and possibly lost him from the team. Instead, I applied the principles you taught and practiced in your seminar just the day before.
Result: He said he really appreciated that we talked about what else is going on in his life and how he can combine that with the startup work. In leadership, things besides basic business matter. Since people donâ€™t know how to address them, they gloss over them. Your seminar showed me how to talk about them productively and respectfully.
Likely outcome: we retained key personnel and we found a synergistic solution so that the co-founder can advance the startup while simultaneously making his other goals work!“
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