Motivation comes from within. Therefore, trying to motivate someone else is usually a waste of time. (If the other person does seem to be motivated, ask if it was, in fact, anything to do with you. Just because B follows A doesn’t mean B was caused by A.)
So why do people think they can do it, or think that other people can do it? After all, on the whole, people don’t change their behaviour by being told to change it.
I suggest a number of reasons:
1 It’s the conventional wisdom that you can motivate someone (unfortunately spurred on by misguided trainers, coaches, mentors and the rest), therefore “it must be what managers/teamleaders/et al should do, so I should do it”.
2 Lots of people seem to be doing it—probably because of (1)—so “I had better do it, too”. Comfort in numbers
3 Many bosses have an attachment to being right that gets in the way:
a because of (1) and (2), they’re right to believe they can motivate others, so they’re going to carry on
b they’re right about what they are currently saying to their staff so anything else is, by definition, wrong (so we can’t have that) and therefore demotivating
It’s too trite to say that the remedy is to let go of their need to be right (though that is the remedy). Each boss needs his or her particular (self-) coaching in order to let go of this need.
4 Many people fail to follow the zen precept of treating the world as it is and not how they would like it to be. Although this is a brother to (3), it is different because it is about the world, whereas (3) is about the individual
5 Unless the boss is newly in post, lack of motivation in the team reflects a lack of motivation in the boss. If the boss doesn’t sort themselves out, nothing else will substitute and the team will stay demotivated. And the boss’s problem is not that he/she isn’t motivated (though that is a problem)—it is something else which gives rise to the lack of motivation, and that something else could be a multi-layer mix of almost anything, though I would always look for issues around self-worth first.
Sometimes, a team member might be unable to motivate themselves because they are overwhelmed by some event in their private lives which the are unable to exclude from their working day thoughts; for example, the recent death of a loved one. The boss needs to be able to establish with the employee that this is the case (probably without examining all the details) so the boss would have done well to establish prior communication channels so that he/she doesn’t feel (and look?) foolish by trying to motivate a person in this sort of situation.
© 2015 Jeremy Marchant . updated 28 may 2015 . image: Free digital photos