Many organizational leaders enjoy analyzing what’s wrong with something so they can solve the problem and come with solutions. But, what happens when leaders try to motivate and engage their teams? Does this approach still serve them? Fixing people’s motivation rather than supporting them in finding one may not be the path to improve performance. But a coaching perspective might change things dramatically.
Due to Covid-19 pandemic most of the companies moved a significant part of their workforce to remote working and for majority of leaders, motivation and engagement are some top of mind issues right now. Vivian, who is a Senior Manager in one of the largest food companies in the world, told me these days “During a conversation with my subordinates I often find myself jumping to solutions and telling them what to do. But, even though I come with the solution for their problem, they don’t seem to be engaged or motivated to implement it. I don’t know what else to do.” Some leaders have a hard time boosting team performance because they take the heat of a task-solver leader and not a task-enabling leader. Jane Dutton from University of Michigan Business School pointed out that “task-enabling strategies improve others’ performance at the same time that they help build high-quality-connections”. So, what a task-enabling leader should do right now to boost performance?
There are different possibilities and one of this is embodying a coaching mindset
Set a positive and collaborative space
While remote work proved to be entirely feasible, motivation and engagement seems to be dramatically affected. The distance is something that creates physical barriers. Thus, leaders who pay attention to psychological barriers will make impressive strides in improving people performance. Human beings are hardwired to mimic the moods of the people they come in contact with. Managers and leaders can make a profound difference in activating motivation and engagement by taking a compassionate approach and co-creating the foundation for qualitative relationships with coworkers, bosses, subordinates, and customers. How to do that if working together has effectively become just a screen most of the time?
A number of aspects will be key:
- Embrace a positive stance. Take as much time as you need to get centered and ready emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually and professionally for meetings. Greet everybody with a smile and positive expectation. Show support, empathy and concern.
There are strong evidences suggesting that positive emotions help in broadening people’s momentary through-action repertoire. Profesor Barabara L. Fredrickson from University of Michigan argued that people experiencing positive affect are flexible, creative, open to information and efficient.
- Remain focused, observant, empathetic and responsive to others. Demonstrate curiosity and allow space for silence, pause or reflection. In this way you may honor the presence of others fostering participation and engagement.
People are moved into action most via emotions not by precise or perfect information. You may ask yourself “What is one small change I could make that would have the biggest impact on creating a positive and collaborative space for interaction?”
Establish a shared goal
Without doubt, our goals influence our behaviors and actions. A common beneficial agreement embedded in a shared goal illustrates the reciprocal investment of resources and energy strengthening the relationships and increasing team engagement. There is extensive literature about goal settings and how conscious goals affect action.
In coaching, establishing goals is invariably one of the first steps of the process. Similar, a leader could start by helping team members to articulate and define shared goals along with measures of success. Leaders who are comfortable with being vulnerable in a way that they don’t have all the answers and ask for collective wisdom to define common goals connect with others on a human level. They inspire and empower others, fostering a culture of learning.
The type of goals also matters. In this pandemic time, the odds to uphold motivation and overall performance are increasing for leaders who harness the power of learning goals – focused on increasing abilities or mastering new tasks. Based on research findings learning goals lead to better performance than performance goals. In a research review Christopher H. Utman from Northeastern University Some pointed out that the advantage of focusing on self-improvement through learning goals increases in the presence of others. Thus, you may want to consider asking your subordinates “What is one task that you want to perform masterfully to positively contribute to our team?”
Clarify the current situation
Researchers argued that the principal obstacle to tapping into our inner strength lies with our cognitive style, in how we interpret the events. Thus, leaders might consider encouraging others to focus on facts and use descriptive terminology rather than evaluative terminology to maintain detachment and objectivity and reduce the counterproductive self-criticism that distorts perception. “What evidence supports your statement?” might be a good question to ask.
Another tool for unfolding reality is effective communication. Engaging in a way that respect others and listening in a way that demonstrate regard and an appreciation of other’s worth are key leader’s competences for boosting performance. As Jane Dutton pointed out “everyone needs respectful engagement with others, but in many organizations, few get it”. Respectful engagement is crucial in going beyond being present and looking for strengths, values and meaning – the positive core – that unlock the other’s potential.
Some coaching competences, as were defined by International Coaching federation, ICF, might be extremely valuable in this context:
- Ask questions that help others explore beyond current thinking
- Invite others to share more about their experience in the moment
- Reflect or summarize what other’s communicated to ensure clarity and understanding,
- Recognize and inquire, notice, acknowledge and explore the other’s emotions, non-verbal cues or behaviors.
Generate options and define actions plan
Exploring options, resources, barriers and who might provide a valuable support creates the flexibility in mind and a sense of control. Leaders who are open to explore options with their subordinates and encourage initiatives fulfill the employees need for autonomy and competence and boost their internal motivation. The employees feel empowered by having choices and ownership of their actions which leads to an increased motivation and overall performance.
To help employees draw strategies and actions mastering some coaching skills might be the difference in achieving great results. Some of these coaching skills include:
- Invite others to generate ideas about how they can move forward, what they are willing or able to do, what resources, support and potential barriers they might have
- Partner in designing accountability measures that integrate and expand learning and insights,
- Provide support in identifying potential results or learning from identified action steps,
Asking for commitment, for example “Do you commit to me that you’ll do exactly what you just stated you want to do? If so, how you will do it? By when?” can maximize a sense of empowerment, progress, and ownership.
Dutton, J.E.(2003). Energize your workplace: how to create and sustain high-quality connections at work. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass
Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1367
Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a Practical Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation: A 35-year Odyssey. American Psychologist, 57 (9), 705-717.
Stephens. J.P., Heaphy, E., Dutton, J. (2011). High quality connections. In K. Cameron and G. Spreitzer (eds.), Handbook of positive organizational scholarship. New York, NY- Oxford University Press
Utman, C.H. (1997). Performance Effects of Motivational State: A Meta-Analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, Vol. 1, No. 2, 170-182