Do You Know What Motivates Your Team?

Leading a high-performing team requires understanding how to motivate individual performers. When you know what motivates your team, you can better lead them to drive results. Even better, you will be able to help them lead themselves.

Let’s start by acknowledging that most people do not know what motivates them. If you ask one of your team members what motivates them, you will probably receive a vague answer (“money”, “family”, “praise”), if any answer. One reason is because they are trying to guess what you think is the right answer. No one wants to give the boss a bad answer. The other reason is because they legitimately do not know.

Few people spend the time to consider what drives them forward each day and what they want from life. They are moving too fast to consider it. Still, it does not hurt to ask. If you really want to know what motivates someone, though, the best way to find out is through observation. Pay attention to their interactions with other people. Notice what types of situations and conversations energize them and what challenges they shy away from or reluctantly accept.

I used to lead a sales team and I found 3 primary motivators among my employees. These 3 motivators extend beyond sales, so I thought I would share them with you, as I have seen them:

1. Motivated by Greed. Some people seem motivated by money–by financial goals. They want to make all the money they can and they will do whatever it takes to have more than the person next to them. Of course, money itself is not the motivator. The motivator is what they believe money brings–status, luxury, a reputation among their peers or family. They want to feel famous in their own world.

2. Motivated by Deed. Some people are motivated by winning. Money is nice but what they really want is to be the best. They enjoy recognition of their ability and they are not only “in it to win it” but they are also driven to perform as role-models. They take intentional, conscious action to learn, and work hard to do whatever they do better than everyone else. They love to see goals in front of them almost as much as they love blowing past those goals. They want to feel proud and accomplished. They are motivated by the action of perfection itself.

3. Motivated by Need. Some people just want to do right by others. They work in alignment with a moral code. They never want to be seen as a slick “car salesman”. They have to fill a need to be in service to others, volunteering for a greater charitable calling to help their church, or the environment, or local charities. Moreover, they need the people they serve to acknowledge their nobility or fortitude. They want to help people and they feel a need to have people know how much they sacrifice. They need to feel good about themselves.


By helping a team member or friend play to their strengths and motivations, I find they compel themselves to excel. Often, this is done by simply framing a conversation to align with their motivational view-point. For example, during a sales contest, I might frame a conversation like this for each motivator:

  1. Greed: Pat, if we finish number one in this sales contest, you will have an extra $1,000 in your pocket, which will make a nice first payment on that new Lexus you want. Just throwing it out there…
  2. Deed: Chris, you owe it to yourself to finish at the top. I know you can do it. You know you can do it. You have worked and practiced for this. Now let’s show everyone else why you are the best at what you do.
  3. Need: Sam, finishing number one in this contest means you could be a hero at the shelter. What a cool gift that would be to donate, and honestly, if Pat wins it, you know that money will not go to a charity. I want to see the look on your face when you write the check. Make me proud.


The important thing, of course, is to be authentic to yourself in these conversations. If you don’t care if Pat gets the Lexus, or Chris leads by example, or Sam gives the money to a charity, then don’t pretend to be on their side. If you are not motivated by them feeling motivated, then they won’t be motivated by you. Use a different tactic.

Either way, it is good to know what energizes the people around you so you can have conversations that energize you both. Whether your thing is Greed, Deed, or Need, knowing the prime motivators will help you succeed.



Having All The Answers

Each weekday, I share a lesson I have learned in life (no easy feat). Today’s lesson is about having all the answers. Hint: I don’t, and neither do you. 


If I had all the answers about Leadership, then my blog would shut everyone else’s down. If Dale Carnegie had all the answers about Sales, then “How to Win Friends and Influence People” would have been the last book written about winning people over. If Gandhi had all the answers about Peace, then that would have been the end to war.

It is easy, even tempting, to believe Ayn Rand had it perfect with Objectivism (but then why are there still books written about Philosophy?) or that Vince Lombardi knew all there is to know about Coaching (but then why are there still coaches doing it differently?).

Nobody has all the answers.

If you think you do, the overwhelming likelihood is that you are wrong. If you think a celebrity does, overwhelming likelihood is that you are wrong. If you think your favorite book does, overwhelming likelihood is that you are wrong.

That’s okay, though. No one has to have or be the definitive resource for anything. The goal is not to define the world. The goal is just to make it better.

Start by accepting your way, though it might seem logical, is still not the best or only way… but if other people support your point of view, then you at least you can feel good about being on the right track (probably).



Some People Don’t Like You

I share a life-lesson I have learned each weekday. Today’s lesson is about being liked by others. Hint: not everybody likes you.


A long-time employee of the company met me for the first time. I don’t know why but I had the instant impression that he didn’t like me. It was so strange because, of course, we had never spoken before. He might have heard of me from other employees but we had never communicated, not even through email.

Still, we exchanged brief pleasantries and each of us went on our way. He seemed quite gregarious around everyone else. I could have taken it personally but I learned long ago some people don’t like me.

Some people don’t like you, either. When a highly successful salesperson on my team would occasionally meet a sale they could not make, despite their flawless execution, I would tell them, “Don’t sweat it. You don’t know where that person came from. You might remind them of their ex. You might look like a terrorist to them. Their dog might have died yesterday. They might be racist, sexist, or judgmental. You might have said the one thing that they can’t stand to hear. Whatever it is, don’t take it personally. It’s not about you.”

It is almost never about you. Some people won’t like you because if we were all the same, then we would not be human.





Why Do You Have to Work THERE?

I look back at each day and figure out one life lesson I learned. I share each of those lessons on this blog. Here is today’s lesson…


I used to run a successful sales team. When I moved to Tampa, I had to give up my job and find new work. While in that position, I had to hold back the promotion of one of my managers and risk losing one of the company’s best team members because they did not live in the district they were applying to manage.

Many companies cling to archaic work paradigms, such as physical presence=results, and miss the big picture (which is results=results).

The company could have promoted that manager (the manager did earn a promotion to my position after I moved away). The company could have kept me as well. They simply chose not to. It worked out great for me. I’m not complaining, just making a point:

It is difficult for a company to find extraordinary talent. It is NOT difficult for extraordinary talent to find a company. There is always work for talented people. The only question is whether talented people will choose to work for YOU.

I am happy my situation worked out the way it did–I have another great job now but I never understood why it had to be that way.

This week, I watched another leader nearly pass up an amazing candidate for because the person did not live in the area. I was dumbfounded, but still, I recognize that most leaders think in a very “local” sense. They believe remote work is a privilege to be earned and distributed to those “worthy”. This is exactly backwards in my opinion. The privilege, for a leader, is having the best person possible on their team. Personally, I wouldn’t care if my team members live on the moon as long as they figure out how to do excellent work.

Being location-ambivalent means I have a tremendous advantage over my competitors. I can pull applicants from all over the world, not just the 20 mile radius from the office.

If you think about it, most non-entry level work today is “knowledge work”–reporting, strategy, and communication rather than manual labor–flipping burgers or unloading trucks (Both things which obviously require physical presence).

We have technology to free knowledge-based workers–Skype, Hangouts, Slack, GroupMe, email, FaceTime, SmartSheets, Dropbox, and of course, the phone. For example, I can just as effectively run a sales team in Michigan from Tampa as I could from Michigan. With video chatting, email, instant messaging, collaborative work folders, and screen sharing, everything is at my disposal virtually that was there physically.

Yet we cling to the notion that communication is only effective face to face.

There are many ways to have a stronger, more agile workforce built from a broader talent pool. There are many ways to retain your most talented people while maximizing their freedom and ability to innovate and drive transformation.

Sadly, technology and change is scary to many otherwise excellent leaders.

To me, it is a shame to see a talented person looked over for a leader’s lack of vision, but at least I take heart knowing they will undoubtedly find great work wherever they end up. Luckily, I was able to convince the leader who almost tossed out a great applicant to take a second look. Hopefully, when you are faced with the same quandary, you will think twice, too.



Your Worst Customer

Every day I think about a lesson learned over the past 48 hours–a real life-lesson I can apply to my life and share with you. Here is what I thought about today…


I am still unhappy with my experience flying Delta recently. I paid an up-charge for a seat that was double-booked (and it was not refunded to me). I was stuck behind a crying, stinky baby (not Delta’s fault, except I should not have been in that seat but rather in the seat I paid for). The air conditioning unit on the plane went out and we were stuck on the tarmac for nearly an hour as the temperature rose until the mechanics could arrive and turn the unit off and then back on, which worked. The worst part, though, was that once we were in the air, they made us listen to a 2-minute promotion for some airline credit card. Forcing a captive audience to hear your scammy sales pitch has to be a new low in Marketing. What a shame.

I have been debating trying to contact Delta about my experience (I did tweet about it as it was happening) but the thing is, I am rather busy. I am writing this blog, I work full-time, and I have hobbies and social obligations. In the end, sending a letter potentially into limbo is not worth my time, and that got me thinking…

Your worst customer is not the one who keeps coming back and complaining. Your worst customer is not the one your employees dread as soon as they see them walk through the door. It is not the customer you avoid. It is not even the customer who is trying to scam you.

Your worst customer is the one that never comes back.

How many sales have you (or your team or your company) let slip through the cracks? How many people have had a bad experience but never tell you about it? They tell everyone else when it comes up in conversation, but they never take the time to tell you because they are too busy, tired, or ambivalent about it? After all, there are a lot of other airlines and choices out there.

Get to know your worst customers before they get to forget about you.





Finding An Expert

Today’s Lesson: Experts are easy to spot if you know how to look.


We have been shopping for Stand-Up Paddleboards (SUP’s) lately. It is a lot like shopping for new cars. If you are not already an expert, you can be taken for a lot of money and you will feel lost in the jargon.

SUPs can be a fairly expensive venture, too, costing about five grand for a pair of decent boards, car mount, protective covers, paddles, fins, leashes, etc. Just choosing the right type for your needs is a big challenge. We have been taking our time, asking questions, reading reviews, learning the jargon, and even taking lessons.

What I have learned so far is there is a wide gap in knowledge between people who like to Stand-Up Paddleboard and people who know how to Stand-Up Paddleboard well. Everyone we have spoken to so far seemed knowledgeable and helpful, but then we came across an expert, and I realized I have seen this in other areas. If you have walked into a cell phone store, for example, it is easy to distinguish the people who are good at sales from the people who love technology and want you to be as excited about it as they are. Their passion comes through instantly and they want to show you why everything is so cool.

Good salespeople know the facts, prices, and talking points… until you stray away from what is printed on the label or box. They can not dive deep or offer advice–only choices. Passionate experts consider your questions, offer relevant options, and have an opinion and advice no matter what direction you head in the conversation. Most importantly, experts can not help but teach you along the way.

We talked to one salesperson who knew her stuff. She asked a few questions and guided us to a few boards she felt would work for us. Her sales process was spot on. She was really good. Salesperson number two was also quite good, able to assess our needs, offer a few choices, and asked for the money without pouring on the pressure. Very good. Then we came across Mike from Urban Kai.

Mike LOVES Stand-Up Paddleboarding. Within 30 minutes, we knew where this leisure sport began (Hawaii), how Polynesians typically use their paddles, why inflatables are not for us (which I was leaning heavily towards), how to use our hips to minimize effort while paddling, what indigenous fish we can spot in the area, and more.

This guy is clearly an expert. Mike’s passion is clear from the second you meet him. His excitement is contagious. He took us on the water and was so excited to teach, he grabbed a stranger passing by (twice) and showed them how to hold their paddle correctly.

In 30 minutes with Mike, we learned more than we had in nearly a month of research and shopping. Not surprisingly, we will be purchasing our new Paddleboards and accessories form Urban Kai.

This is not an ad for Urban Kai or Mike, by the way. I do not think he would even recognize us if we ran into him again. There is definitely a teachable moment here, though, if you are in sales, management, or leadership.

There is always room for people who are good, but finding people who are passionate about learning and becoming experts… those are the people who will take your business far. Customers will flock to those people like mice to a Pied Piper.

Seek out experts (or burgeoning experts) out. Pay what they are worth to you (they are worth as much as you can afford–if they are not worried about money or benefits then they are free to pursue passion). Teach them because knowledge is as important to them as money, reward them in clever ways (knowledge and time are great rewards), recognize their efforts, encourage them to share their knowledge, and watch them soar!

If you are not passionate about what your company does (or what you do), then probably don’t send this article to your boss. She might start looking for someone who is!


Learn It to Teach It

Today’s Lesson: To be an effective teacher, you must first be an effective learner.


As a trainer, I believe there is tremendous value in learning and experiencing the thing I am expected to teach. I see many coaches or organizational trainers who think they can enter a business blind and somehow magically command respect and disseminate knowledge.

Before I could teach people how to sell, I had to learn how to sell and experience both rejection and success in that field. I had to become at least marginally proficient at sales (I happen to be better than marginally proficient at sales but that was all I needed to be an effective trainer). It is important to note I did not have to learn to be the best salesperson in the world. If I had learned that, then I would have gone into sales and made a great deal of money as the world’s best salesperson instead of working to help salespeople become better salespeople.

Many trainees have the opposite folly of their trainers–they believe the trainer should be better than anyone else at the skill being taught. That is illogical. If Michael Jordan’s coach was better than Michael Jordan at basketball, for example, then his coach would be on the court enjoying Jordan’s fortune and fame instead of Michael Jordan. The coach’s (or trainer’s) job is not to be better than the people they are teaching. The coach’s job is to find the holes in the game and help the team overcome obstacles as they arise.

Trainers provide the skills we need to improve but to do that, trainers must also learn the basics to earn credibility.

I was reminded of this in a meeting. The person formerly in charge of a team had been recently let go and one of the main reasons why, it turned out, was because he did not understand the duties and responsibilities of the people he was in charge of. He had not gone out into the field and learned or experienced their day-to-day environment and challenges. How could he ever have led them?

One of my first duties, by contrast, was to meet as many team members as possible and spend as much time learning the company’s products, history, and team member roles as I could. In fact, most employees who chatted with me seemed surprised that I could speak to the company’s roots and history better than many of them could, even though they had been with the company longer.

In the meeting, someone pointed out how refreshing it was to hear that I wanted to travel to wherever the teams were and learn what they did. “How can I train them,” I asked, “If I have no idea what they do or how they do it?”



After the Sale

Today’s Lesson: “Selling” is ineffective because it implies a transaction has been completed.


I like our apartment complex, but after we moved in, the service and attention paid to us saw a sharp decline.

I like my car salesperson, but after the deposit was made on our second car, the delivery date and added packages keep changing.

I like  Netflix, but after I moved to their streaming service, their movie library went all over the map, with some movies never coming to streaming, some coming temporarily, and many I would never want to watch, anyway.

I like my cellphone store, but after I bought my phone, learning anything about it was on me.

The problem with selling things is that salespeople believe it is a transaction while customers believe it is a relationship. Truly successful brands get it. They build an inviting ecosystem that does not end when the initial sale does. They proactively reach out to the people who purchased from them (they probably don’t call those people “customers”) and continually do two things. Make promises and keep them, and teach. People become fans when they understand why something is cool or valuable and when they know it is reliable.


The next time you make a sale, end it by asking  yourself: “What reason have I given them to come back? What reason have I given them to never come back?”


Don’t Ask; Don’t Sell

It never hurts to ask.


I love lattes. Since we moved to Tampa, we have been shopping around for a Nespresso Delonghi machine (it’s like a high end Keurig that also dispenses, mixes, and foams milk into espresso for an amazing latte). You can special order them online or from specialty stores but it is difficult to find one on store shelves and nearly impossible to find one on sale.

While shopping, Nicole and I came across one someone ordered and must have changed their mind about before it arrived. The box was beat up but after inspecting the contents, it was obvious the unit was never used. Nevertheless, we knew it was going to be tough for the store to sell (if you are not familiar with Nespresso you would probably not have known how expensive the innards of this torn and damaged box sitting among the other lower end machines was).

We couldn’t believe our luck, plus we thought we might be able to convince the site to drop a few bucks off the asking price for the rough-looking box.

I have been in Sales for a while but I have never seen anyone haggle like Nicole. I would never want to play poker with her, either.

The store did offer 10% off right away, but Nicole was not moved. She explained we could save $100 on the Nespresso website for being first time purchasers and although we would pay a few bucks more, we would have a product in perfect shape and perfect packaging at our doorstep.

She explained to the store manager that she did not feel that was the best they could do. Further, she pointed out that obviously the store wanted to sell the machine and obviously we were an interested party. The box was sitting on the store shelf taking up valuable retail space that could be used to turn more product instead of continuing to be passed by indefinitely by uninterested parties.

In the end, we ended up paying $220 less than the original price and everybody was happy (although we might have been a little happier than everybody else).

Even with a career in sales, I hate haggling and negotiating but I was reminded of a valuable lesson…

Today’s Lesson: You get what you ask for (and you don’t get what you don’t ask for).


Skills Versus Passion: One Makes Winners

I would take someone who is passionate about what they do over someone who is good at what they do any day.


I run several professional sales teams. I would take any one of my teams and pit their knowledge and skills against any other team in our company with no fear they would fare quite well. They are very good at what they do.


Until they aren’t.

I saw the most remarkable and, at first, confounding, thing today. After endless preparation, practice, and set-up for a huge sale, I watched my team pretty much fall on our face. We came in last against amateur teams that have barely had time to develop. In fact, we actually taught the other teams how to create a successful sale. They followed our every move as instructed. So, what happened?

How does a seasoned, professional team (sales or otherwise) fall to underdog up-starts? The answer is clear to me. Passion. The amateurs brought passion to the table today. They were hungry. They had something to prove and they set on a mission to win, not because they wanted big numbers or were being pressured by their superiors but because they wanted to win. 

Sadly, I must admit I did not see that same gleam of ignited focus or desire in my team’s eyes today. I saw professionals who looked and operated professionally, but with tired gazes, maybe worn-out from all the pressure to succeed, and the work and energy put into preparing. Maybe they put so much of themselves into it that they forgot to leave a little energy left to devote to the most important part of success: understanding why you want it.

This is where a leader’s work starts, though. Now it is my turn to find that spark and nurse it back to a flame. If teams always had that drive, that passion to win, then they would never need leaders (and many managers would be out of a job).


Today’s Lesson:  You can do everything right and still fail. Skills, therefore, are important but not crucial. With or without them, if you have passion, you can win. The catch is, passion is not something learned from the employee manual. You can teach skills. You must ignite passion.