Becoming a Motivating Manager

Jan 24, 2019

By Louellen Essex, Ph.D. and Mitchell Kusy, Ph.D.

Are you a manager who creates a motivating work environment?  Does your team enjoy what it's doing? Do you inspire people to give their best? If you can’t answer these questions with a confident, “yes,” here are five tried-and-true tips for getting started:

  • Align work with talents and interests.  Motivation depends on two key elements—people’s desire to do work that interests and inspires them and their personal belief in their ability to succeed. The lesson: Align work accordingly, and you will motivate people. In fact, the motivation will be intrinsic—the work itself will motivate.
  • Remove obstacles.  A motivating manager knows how to clear the way and help people make things happen. Create a steady flow of resources. Make sure that every process and procedure are efficient and steadily run interference with the higher-ups, to ensure that new ideas are always met with support—not resistance.
  • Get rewards right.  Rewards fall into four categories—money, advancement, recognition, and the nature of the work itself.

    Financial rewards—salary increases, bonuses, and cash “prizes”—are most meaningful to employees who are building material assets and supporting others. One example: Recent research shows that younger workers—Gen X and Gen Y employees—are far more driven to perform by financial incentives than their older co-workers.

    Advancement is most important to people who value status, autonomy, and authority. In today’s flat organizations, however, fewer promotions may be available. Think, instead, about providing leadership opportunities through key roles such as team leader, project manager, and group facilitator.

    Recognition is about praise and other gestures that say, “Thanks for a job well done.” Be timely, creative, and personal with your praise and match the recognition to the contribution. If an employee worked day and night for weeks to complete a critical project, a T-shirt or movie tickets won’t cut it.

    People’s work can be a reward, too. For employees who most value growth and development, a plum assignment may be the perfect recognition. Job rotations, cross-training, and special assignments in other departments can make for great rewards, too.
  • Deal with poor performance—and performers.  Many managers inadvertently reward poor performance. How? They
    overload top performers, who eventually feel that the distribution of  work is unfair. (Why are they doing more than others who make the same pay?) While extra projects might seem like a pat on the back at first, they ultimately feel like punishment if the workload becomes unmanageable.

    Don’t force others to pick up the slack of poor performers. Instead, deal with “underperformers” directly by actively coaching them, tracking their progress, and determining the best next steps.
  • Be a role model.  Enthusiasm, negativity, and cynicism are contagious. Model the attitude and energy you want to see in your staff. Check your verbal and nonverbal behavior. (People are always watching and listening.) Have a good word for everyone, and be genuinely positive about the organization. And when problems do arise—as they will—promote a collaborative, can-do mindset.

About the Author(s)

Louellen Essex, Ph.D. and Mitchell Kusy, Ph.D. Louellen Essex and Mitchell Kusy are award-winning consultants and university professors. They are co-authors of Manager’s Desktop Consultant: Just-in-Time Solutions to the Top People Problems That Keep You Up at Night (Davies-Black, 2007).  Contact them on the Web at and