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How Leaders Can Inspire Team Members to Give More

What do you do when you have good people who are good at heart, good natured, talented, have relevant skills for your enterprise, but who are doing work that is just not good enough? For you and your organization and often unbeknownst to them, for themselves. What causes the disconnect between you as a leader, what you know needs to be done, and the performance of the people you’ve hired and brought onto your team?

Photo: Courtesy of Wix Media

Often the disconnect comes from confusion regarding what matters most. Clarity can be improved by thoughtfully considering the following questions:

  • Where are you going with the organization?

  • What is the direction in terms of both the end result and elements of the journey?

  • What are the benchmarks that must be achieved on a monthly, quarterly, semi-annual or annual basis?

  • What needs to be done to ensure that once the benchmarks are met, they dramatically increase the probability of your achieving the desired goal?

  • What are the potential internal and external impediments to achieving the desired results?

As a leader, there's no way you're going to know the answers to all of these questions, but by examining them you'll be in a better position to proactively identify issues and opportunities, and take the appropriate steps. Once they are understood, you can get crystal clear with the roles and responsibilities of each member of your team, based on their interests, skills, experience, and knowledge. You should then design position statements that reflect those elements. It's helpful for you to have a very deliberate methodology for determining all that needs to be done. Assigning tasks and expecting team members to select priorities are responsibilities that are too important to perform arbitrarily. Rather, the talent of your team should be collectively and individually assessed so you can properly align tasks and duties. At a minimum, make it a point to conduct a draft model for this exercise as soon as possible.

Once you've determined what needs to be done and by whom, talk to the team about what the future holds for the organization. In other words, inform them of the direction and vision and how they align with the benefits desired by each member. Communicate the benefits in terms of opportunities to leverage their knowledge, utilize their skills, and to work in an environment where there's greater alignment. Help them understand how they will be able to get more of what's most important and meaningful to them. And share how their mission could be accomplished as they work consistently toward achieving the objectives of the enterprise.

With respect to buy-in or engagement, it’s essential that you talk with individual members of the team on a regular basis. It's important to affirm them and their abilities, experience and value, and invite them to share with you what they want to be doing to thrive and be fulfilled. Discuss the preliminary aspects of their job description and maybe how that now needs to be changed. In your mind it very well may be final. But the odds are that after some discussion you may find opportunities to modify it to better satisfy the interests and desires of that member of the team. In doing so, you would be validating them and allowing them to participate in creation of that job description. You may be surprised to find that they're willing to take on more than you had anticipated. Because it's likely they may feel a greater sense of ownership. After all, they would have participated in writing the script for the work they'll be doing, their personal fulfillment, and the success of the enterprise.

These are some essential steps that are overlooked too often as leaders seek greater engagement of members of their team. Their desire is usually to build a culture that’s more inviting and filled with enjoyment whether working individually or in a team environment. But they're often too busy attending to urgent matters and miss these pivotal steps.. Don’t be that leader.

If you’re struggling with building engagement, thoughtfully reconsider and apply what you’ve just read. But if you go through these steps as a leader and an individual team member is still not performing well enough, there may be room for improvement for both parties.

I just had a conversation with a leader who describes one of his team members as a great performer who’s not performing. That’s a harsh reality. Having individuals in an organization who are smart, who have performed at high levels, and who can perform into the future at very high levels. They may even be capable of performing at higher levels than they had performed previously. It’s not uncommon for this to be caused by several known and unknown factors, which you need to explore. As a leader, this gives you a justifiable reason to have a thoughtful conversation with this individual. It may be off site, in a coffee shop, or park, or if not off-site, in a cafeteria, hallway, library, someplace neutral—not an office or conference room that might trigger stress. Someplace where you can get away from the stress, prying eyes, or the intense environment where you normally do serious work.

There, you and the team member are able to relax and just chat as caring, respectable human beings. Talk about past successes, the future that's desired, ideals, and aspirations. Ask questions and listen attentively. Affirm their skills, knowledge, and past performance. Build their confidence by sincerely sharing your confidence in them, their abilities, and your admiration for who they are as a human being and professional. Then compliment them on what they’ve contributed in the past. Affirm them for what they know. Also be sure to communicate your sincere commitment to helping them be the best they can be, step by step at their pace, and in ways that facilitate their enjoyment and fulfillment at work. Let them know that you support their accomplishment of whatever matters most to them.

Encourage engagement with the following questions:

  • What else would they like support with?

  • How else might you be of assistance?

  • What barriers have they encountered, are they encountering, or are they likely to encounter?

  • What would they like to see reduced or removed?

Share honestly the limits to your power. But communicate your desire and willingness to do whatever is humanly possible to reduce or remove those barriers. And make it clear that some things are beyond your control. Let them know there are some things you have influence over and things you don’t have influence over. Establish that there are simply some things you never will be able to change. Be honest, be sincere, and be clear in your commitment to be a partner with them to remove barriers and open doors of opportunity for them to succeed and thrive.

After you’ve shared your confidence in them, you’ve gotten feedback, answers to your questions, and shared your sincere commitment to help, ask if they will commit as well. Will they commit to working with you, putting their best foot forward? Finally, with a handshake, a toast of tea, cup of coffee, glass of water, or whatever you can lift to confirm your agreement, cement the commitment that you're going to work together for that brighter future you would have both discussed. And agree that you will both be honest and transparent in your communications with each other. This is integral to ensuring that you do work conscientiously and assiduously toward bringing out the best in that team member, so that you could both have the very best experience and results.

Finally, establish parameters to support this commitment. One way to ensure commitment is to establish mechanisms for monitoring progress. Arrange regular check-ins, updates, and refresher reviews of the previously examined questions, answers and commitments. Propose appropriate intervals for check-ins, depending on the professional maturity of the team member. If it’s an accomplished member of the team who’s had a track record of performing with relative independence and consistency, you may presume and suggest accordingly. Given what you know about their performance in the past, it could be reasonable for you to meet on a monthly basis for the next three months. If it's someone who is junior and less experienced, you may decide to meet every week or every two weeks. If It's an established, accomplished team member and you're convinced that the person has recommitted to the work, you may decide it's appropriate to meet on a quarterly basis unless something of a material nature were to occur.

A central idea is that there should be a mechanism, structure or regimen that keeps the parties actively involved and continually communicating on progress. Wherever successes are achieved, celebrate them. When challenges are encountered, review how they’re handled. If there are any suggestions for improvement, explore how these may be merged into updated agreements that include appropriate mid-course adjustments that reduce friction and expedite progress. Continually clarifying what matters most leads to greater effectiveness and better outcomes for everyone who's involved.


Renwick Brutus' career has spanned roles as research economist, investment advisor, entrepreneur and consultant. He holds an MBA from Fordham University and has been recognized for his outstanding achievement in sales and business leadership. Today, Renwick applies his unique blend of business strategy and interpersonal skills to help individuals prosper and companies grow. He owns multiple companies and is in great demand to consult with business leaders. Contact him by email and LinkedIn .


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