Confidence, Motivation and Commitment

by Geof Lory

In the last two articles we looked at two elements of leadership that focused primarily on the environment for leading: readiness and team maturity. Assessing and responding to that environment requires a level of conscious observation to determine the most appropriate and effective response. While these leadership actions may be proactive, the impetus for the action is reactive. As a leader, it is important to leverage the environment to maximize productivity of the team. However, it is equally important to do things that will change or improve that environment, specifically as it relates to the readiness of the team.

Three things leaders can do to better prepare the team, and thereby improve the conditions and likelihood of creating high performing teams, are: instilling confidence, providing motivation and creating commitment. An in depth explanation of how effective leaders do this will hopefully give you some techniques for increasing the fertility of the environment in which you lead.

Instilling Confidence – Confidence can be a tricky trait to get a handle on. It is common to think of confidence as something a person either has or doesn't have. But confidence, like readiness and leadership, can vary substantially from situation to situation for the same person. However, the things leaders can do to instill confidence are common from situation to situation. Here are some ways:
    Encourage a learning mindset. Confidence can be high in a situation when there is comfort that the actions taken will produce a positive result in the future. Maintaining a learning mindset encourages trying new actions knowing that it will minimally produce a learning experience regardless of the outcome. Encouraging a learning mindset through exploration and support for the learning alone will build confidence by reducing the fear of negative future results.

    Support thoughtful risk taking. Thoughtful risk taking means you have weighed the situation and are moving forward understanding the probability and impact of the outcome. Supporting this behavior in conjunction with an exploring and learning mindset will encourage new ideas and build confidence.

    Maintain a forward focus. Confidence can be eroded by playing historical tapes of what didn't work or where someone hasn't been successful. I have always found that history is best used when it is learned from not lived in. To this end, I try to avoid dwelling on the past. Take away the key points from the experience and move on. Blaming and fault-finding are counterproductive to developing confidence, especially when the fault is tied to the person, not the situation or behavior.
Here's a technique to instill confidence that I use with my daughters that also works well with team members. I ask them, "What did you learn?" "What risks did you think about?" and "What would you do differently if you had to do it all over again?" I always enjoy the reaction when someone thinks they are going to get scolded or criticized and instead I ask them what they learned. Suddenly the world changes from closed to open, apprehension to confidence.

Providing Motivation – At the heart of motivation are goals. Tapping into the personal and collective goals of people is key to providing motivation. It is not enough to just define, announce or publish goals, they need to become personal. Not only do they have to be personal, they have to take into consideration the situation. Yes, they too are situational. Here are some ideas to consider when providing motivation.
    Involve others in decision making. Being part of the decision making process builds ownership and accountability. Goals become more tangible and easier to identify with if you are part of the process of establishing them and making decisions around them. I know I have always found more motivation to support those decisions I have had a hand in making.

    Communicate and collaborate. Uncertainty is a primary contributor to de-motivation. Clear and open communication is a great remedy for the FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) factor that can paralyze a team. Uncertainty also puts the goals in question. Once the goals are fuzzy or in doubt, motivation to achieve an uncertain future will be difficult to create or sustain.

    Support and reward positive behavior. Hanging a large reward out in the distance like a carrot may be standard fare for incentive based reward systems, but the motivation is not immediate enough or frequent enough to change daily behavior. Too often we dole out praise and recognition like there is a limited supply of positive words in the English language. Everyone's trophy shelf has an infinite amount of space. Take the time to add to everyone's collection.
I'm not a great cheerleader. It's not my motivational style to get excited in a noticeable way. My daughters and teams would probably describe me as "mellow." But that doesn't mean I don't emotionally connect with them. I connect with them by letting them know I care about them personally, and creating an environment in which they can excel. I try not to confuse motivation with hype.

Creating Commitment – Creating commitment is an incremental activity, both individually and collectively. Rarely is the "commitment switch" turned on all at once. Commitment has to be nurtured continuously or it will grow stale and wane. Fortunately, commitment feeds off of confidence and motivation. Commitment becomes the focus of confidence and motivation. But like confidence and motivation, commitment cannot be mandated.
    Create an invitation to an alternative future. Commitment to a goal is inherently about something in the future. Most leadership activities are about how we get or "enroll" people to do tasks and feel good about doing things they may not otherwise want to do. Getting people to "self-enroll" and take ownership for the future is the first step to creating personal commitment.

    Create and nurture ownership through conversation. It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming common understanding and commitment because it was verbally agreed to at one time. Conversations that explore what really matters individually and collectively builds commitment and keeps it top of mind, where it needs to be.

    Confirm the commitment. What specifically have you gotten commitment on? What is the personal level of investment to that commitment and what is the price they are willing to pay to keep it? Having a common understanding of the boundaries or limits of the commitment helps both sides be clear about what they can expect and be held accountable to.
I find creating commitment and understanding where people stand at any time a challenge. Commitments are tightly woven with priorities, and as priorities shift, so too can commitments. Creating and maintaining commitments becomes a watchdog activity. Beware the enemies of commitment: innocence and indifference. "Whatever" may be funny on my daughter's t-shirt, but it doesn't cut it for anything that matters.

At the core of all three of these elements of leadership—instilling confidence, providing motivation and creating commitment—is the need to tap into the personal radio channel everyone listens to: WII-FM, What's In It For Me. I don't mean to imply any selfishness with this; it is just a reality of human nature. In the next article we'll look at the dynamic programming of this personal frequency and how to tune into and work with this station.

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