Connect to Motivate Your Team: How a Leader’s Personal Concern Impacts Performance

Leaders often ask the question, “What motivates teams to do their best?”

A senior manager at a design firm noticed a designer was struggling over a floor plan and not moving it along quickly enough to meet the impending deadline. The manager was feeling pressure, anxiety and anger and wanted to just snap at her designer. She resisted the urge to express her frustration. Instead she calmed herself down by taking a short walk outside.

A few minutes later she approached the employee and asked, “What’s going on—are you okay?” He responded with a litany of his own frustrations from not having a realistic deadline, to not enough information, and to other projects with tight deadlines. He had his child’s first birthday party that weekend, which meant he couldn’t catch up by working on Saturday. He added that insufficient information and unrealistic deadlines were becoming a pattern on this team. He wondered if he could stay at this company if the work pressures were going to remain this intense.

The manager listened and responded with empathy, “I can understand how you are feeling.” She validated his feelings with, “You’re right, it is a very tight turn-around. “ She also identified with him. “I am feeling pressured by this project too.” Then, she provided partnership and offered practical help, “ How can I help you get the information you need?” Finally, she encouraged him, “I think if we put our heads together, we can get through this.”

Through their conversation the designer relaxed and felt supported. As they talked about solutions, they discovered ways of accessing more resources and making the whole project move faster. The manager was animated, transparent and upbeat and by conversations end, both were laughing.

What did this manager do that was effective? She exhibited the qualities of being a Connected Leader—she was emotionally connected to herself (Self Awareness) and

recognized her own warning signs, and effectively calmed herself down before reacting negatively. Afterwards, she sought out her employee with curiosity and empathy. This approach led to honest communication and problem solving. Note that she was not afraid or threatened by his strong emotions. She welcomed and allowed him to fully express himself. Thus, he felt heard and calmed down, which led to making the situation better.

All too often leaders get irritated when their team members are struggling. They may ignore their employee, making mental notes for the next performance review or express their displeasure and chastise. Both of these options make sense when an employee has an on-going poor attitude, but otherwise productive and happy team members sometimes get stuck and this approach would jam them more. Emotionally intelligent leaders intentionally and actively seek out employee’s feelings and feedback. These leaders understand that they need to see the full reality of the situation in order to make the best decisions, even though addressing negative emotions can be uncomfortable.

Five Elements of Being a Connected Leader:

  • Emotional Self-Awareness

  • Empathy

  • Impulse Control

  • Assertiveness

  • Confidence

The emotional intelligence competencies equip leaders to be the kind of person who motivates, empowers, and helps people grow. The pay-off is a more energized team, reduced stress, positive relationships and ultimately, higher results.

Additional Resources

Performance, TeamsElaine Morris