Inspiring and Motivating Individuals

During the Bonington leadership programme, one of the key exercises we did was on the topic of identifying our values and being authentic to them. A key value of mine is endless intellectual curiosity and a hunger for constant learning. Hence, I am now doing an online “Leading People and Teams” specialisation through Coursera, taught by University of Michigan Ross School of Business. The specialisation consists of five individual courses which are: Inspiring and Motivating Individuals; Managing Talent; Influencing People; Leading Teams; and a Leading People and Teams Capstone. I have just finished the first of these courses on the topic of “Inspiring and Motivating Individuals” and in this post, I will summarise my key learning from this course.

Shared vision and purpose

To inspire and motivate individuals, they need a shared vision and a mission to work. Leaders can get obsessed with developing concepts that are intensively future focussed, not bringing the team along with them, causing a feeling of loss, discontentment and not being valued in their team. It is important that leaders develop a vision that is both forward-looking and realistic, a vision that is clear to understand. A clear vision can create a sense of energy in your team, excitement to work and enthusiasm to deliver. However, having a clear vision is not sufficient on its own. Leaders also create a clear communication approach around their vision. They focus on communicating effectively key attributes of their vision. These include the success criteria for different stakeholders; the delivery of the vision and the choice of words they will use, and the non-verbal characteristics to reinforce the vision. Most importantly, great leaders provide a balance between these elements to achieve a great team who is inspired and motivated to deliver exceptional outcomes.

Setting goals for performance and development

Once the vision is clearly established for the team, the next steps in the journey to motivate individuals is by providing them clearly defined goals that deliver the vision and develops the individuals. These are called stretch goals, and they are an influential factor in helping people reach their full potential and help your organisation reap the linked benefits. Leaders should set SMART goals for their team but be aware of the limitations of SMART goals and ensure that individuals in their team do not fall into the trap of tunnel vision. This goes back to effectively communicating the vision so that individuals are always reminded of why they do what they do. Leaders also provide their teams with autonomy and a variety of skills development. This keeps the individuals engaged in their development and continue to grow.

Understand what people want

Great leaders understand that all individuals are different and have varying needs, wants, and reward expectations. They can separate their feelings from that of their team members. They can evaluate members of their team to identify what motivates each of them, differentiate between extrinsic and intrinsic reward mechanisms, and provide meaning to everyone’s work. They align rewards with the expectations that they have set for their team and with the core values of the team/organisation. They provide an environment of equity, giving people what they want while being careful about the fact that social comparison is what also drives people and keep a good balance between equitable environment and a socially comparable, fair environment.

Separating performance from development

A key aspect of leadership is performance management and staff development. In most organisations, including at Lancaster University, this is officially done through a performance appraisal exercise (at Lancaster, we call it Performance and Development Review). However, effective performance review and development are two linked but separate activities. If you are in a position where you are doing a performance review for someone who has been under-performing, a negative review can trigger the natural defensive instincts, causing us not to realise that there are associated development activities. A good practice in this situation could be to conduct the performance review separately, give a few days in the middle, and then undertake the development review. This delay can potentially help people relax, reflect on how they can develop themselves more efficiently, and have a highly productive development review. In my opinion, this is something we should be doing at Lancaster University as it links with our staff survey which talks about a Professional Development Plan (PDP) which is different to a Performance and Development Review (PDR).


These are just some of the thoughts from the first course. I have found the course to be excellent and it has reinforced my previous thinking on leadership and reshaped some of my thinking for the future. I look forward to completing the full specialisation and keep building my leadership skills (a never ending endeavour).
Featured Image from Budzlife – under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

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