One of the biggest challenges in leadership is motivating unmotivated people. As a new leader, I used to struggle with this every day. Finally, my mentor and father shared with me what he believed to be the three reasons people don’t do what you want them to do:

  • They don’t know how to do it.
  • They have not been correctly empowered to do it.
  • They just don’t want to do it.

As a leader, the first two reasons are your problem. The last one is theirs. But how do you avoid being put in the position of determining a person’s reason for non-performance in the first place?

According to the Law of Magnetism as explained in John C. Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, “Who you are is who you attract.” If you are surrounded by a team of people–or even one person–who appears to be unmotivated, start with YOU. Do you consistently exhibit the characteristics of a motivated person? Or more bluntly, would you hire YOU?

Sometimes leaders inherit teams and may be reluctant to make changes for a variety of reasons. The employee may have been a part of the team for a long time, or the leader may feel insecure in their new position. Whatever the circumstances, there comes a time when leaders must become confident in the culture they are creating and evaluate whether their team has seen motivated behavior modeled and has had time to learn the expectations set by their leaders. Eventually the question may need to be asked if the employee is indeed the right fit for the position or if the team would benefit from a new hire.

When hiring motivated new team members, Maxwell says to look for the following traits:

  • They exhibit a positive attitude.
  • They can articulate specific goals for their life.
  • They are initiators.
  • They have a proven track record of success.

Here are four interview questions you can ask to help determine a candidate’s level of motivation:

  • Describe a time when you had to turn your own negative attitude around.
  • Tell me more about your life/career/personal goals.
  • Give me an example of a time you initiated something new.
  • Share TWO instances when you experienced success. (TWO is important because most interviewees will have at least one prepared response.)

Listen closely to HOW the person answers and for HOW LONG it takes them to formulate their answers. WHAT an interviewee says is actually less important that HOW they say it.

Ultimately, leaders who are intrinsically motivated will attract team members with similar qualities who are eager to help the team achieve their goals without needing additional external motivation.


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