You can’t directly motivate anyone, but you can definitely create conditions in which people choose to contribute, participate, innovate, and push themselves.

Demonstrating your own commitment helps set the bar for the team — not just because you tell them something’s important, or you exhort them to care about it, but because they can observe by your actions the energy and effort you apply to that commitment yourself.

Move These “Levers” to Shift Your Team

If you want to guide people to care as much as you do, be conscious of current organizational norms for supporting action and progress and reducing anxiety and obsessing. Then try some of these suggestions:

  1. Show your team that you know them individually, see them as crucial players, and value their dedication. Tell them your expectations for their future with this initiative or group. Before most employees will give their best, they need to know they matter to the team or the cause, and that their participation makes a difference.
  2. Recognize your lone wolves. Some people care more about figuring out the puzzle and finding the best answer for its own sake than they do about belonging to a team or sharing the team’s effort. Show that you value their work.
  3. Above all, recognize that there are different triggers and motivations for different people, and learn what they are.
  4. Listen. Observe. Listen more. Make room for each person and their input. Listen until it hurts your impatient, driving self — and then listen some more. Then you’ll have the best chance of understanding employee perspectives, preferences, and drives so that you can respond most effectively. Encourage people when they’re going in the right direction, and provide respectful, even joyful development when they need to see or learn something from a different slant, data set, or skill base.
  5. When something negative or awkward happens, show that you’re prepared, willing, and able to shoulder the burden — and then incorporate their help.
  6. When something positive or successful happens, acknowledge how they accomplished it, and show that you support them in continuing their progress.
  7. When team members struggle with working together, help them collaborate. If they’ve already tried collaborating with each other, and your advice hasn’t gotten them over the hump, don’t abandon them to “work it out” by themselves. They need more direction, facilitation, or skills or data beyond their current capacities — or they would have figured it out already.
  8. Focus on employees’ strengths. Show them the path or techniques required to move ahead. Minimize or cushion their weaknesses even as you help them understand what those weaknesses are and how they might counteract them.
  9. Make employees’ goals as clear and as present as possible — whether you set them or they do. Verify that they understand and support the goals, and that they see how those goals can be accomplished.
  10. Help each individual see connections between their efforts and the overall mission and strategy.

Pick just a couple of these “levers” to start. Moving even one of them will begin to shift several others, and you’ll see the blossoming of additional effort, energy, and commitment from the individuals you lead.