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Motivate Others: Motivate Yourself

Peter Urs Bender

Owners and managers of small business enterprises are in a unique position. They are both leaders, and important members of the team.

But in small and medium enterprises, the manager is often Owner, CEO, Chief Financial Officer, Public Relations Manager and the Human Relations Officer all rolled into one. He or she becomes all things to all men.

The difficulty is not only how to fit in with the rest of the team. It's how to motivate your employees.

Let's face it. It's really difficult to motivate employees. But it's really easy to de-motivate them. In fact, it's far easier to turn them off, than it is to turn them on - and examples are easy to find.

Let's take something as simple as a company event or a party. You have employees who think occasional parties and staff get-togethers are an important part of company life. Especially in small outfits, where everyone knows each other.

You, on the other hand, don't happen to think social events are such a great idea. You think they are liable to cost the company more than it gains. You suggest, maybe even very gently, that a get-together out of office hours is not such a good idea. Scrooge! Instant de-motivation.

Or take the situation where an employee comes to you with an idea. You think, after reflection, it's a good one. You authorize the employee to go ahead. But you can't resist stage-managing him or her every step of the way. Pretty soon your employee begins to get the idea that he's not trusted very far. What do you think that does to the employee's morale? To his feeling of motivation?

To motivate an employee you have to understand that motivation is an unfulfilled need. What do I mean by that?

You've just been to lunch, and stuffed yourself. You've eaten far more than you should have and couldn't eat another thing to save yourself. Then someone asks you what you'd like for dinner tonight. Dinner!? You don't feel like another meal. You've just had one. Your need for food is fulfilled.

The trick is to find the needs in your employees that are unfulfilled. What are they hungry for? Then look for something in the corporate environment that will encourage them to move forward.

Managers can motivate employees by helping them to reach their own goals. Help them set their goals, both business and at home, and give them a hand to meet those goals. Watch for skills with languages, with words, with numbers, with computers, with systems. When you spot them, encourage your employee to use one of these skills to the fullest. It all depends on what your company needs.

A good way to determine your employees' skills and unfulfilled needs is to ask them what they do for fun. What are their hobbies and interests? More often than not you will find a match in your company for those skills. Then just stand back and watch that employee bloom.

My assistant, when he was editor of an industrial magazine, had a secretary who, he discovered, could speak three languages, and was learning a fourth. He thought she'd make a good writer and asked her if she was interested in trying.

Very nervously, she replied, "Yes." So he sent her on an assignment. Not only did she come back with a great story, she discovered the executive she was interviewing had an Italian background and conversed with him in his own language. He was so impressed he called the company's sales manager and placed a large order, citing the secretary's sensitivity as a factor in his buying decision. The employee never looked back!

The ability to motivate employees is important in another way. It means that while you are a member of the corporate team, you have to stand a little apart. Great leaders have always had the common touch. They're part of their organizations, but they're different.

In a nutshell, it's very important to be a member of the group, but that doesn't mean you have to go out with your employees every night. Mingle, but separate yourself from them. You will eventually need that space because when push comes to shove you are the one that has to make the sometimes-hard "final" decisions.

Your employees know that, and may or may not understand it. Being part of the team will help you to bond with your people and they want you to do that. But they also want you to be different.

Another aspect of teamworking is that though you are the owner and CEO, you may not always wish to be the "leader." In fact, it may be to your great advantage to delegate the role to someone else on a project basis. That way you develop the natural leadership abilities that are always present in your employees. This will stand you in good stead if you should suddenly become ill, or have to leave the day-to-day running of the business to go on an extended trip. The wise leader always works to replace him or herself in the long run.

Employees are not motivated by money alone. Of course, if you're rich you can say that money isn't everything. If you're not, money is everything. Compensation must be adequate for a person to be able to reach maximum potential. But beyond that, many employees would probably say that being trusted with responsibility in the enterprise is their greatest reward, and it's an outstanding motivator.

Your best bet is to mingle with other managers, perhaps in the same industry, or in a management seminar environment. There is an interesting organization called TEC (The Executive Committee) Ltd., which is headquartered in Calgary. Its members are presidents, CEO's and SME heads that get together do discuss their business problems. To learn more about it visit It has offices in Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg, as well as throughout Eastern Canada. Joining such a group will help you by putting you in touch with other similar managers. It will also show your employees that while you are part of their team, you have responsibilities beyond it.

When it comes right down to it, the toughest part of being head honcho in a small business enterprise is motivating yourself to do what you have to do. There are days when you won't want to get out of bed. But you have to. In the final analysis, your business depends on you - maybe not you alone, but you largely.

So how do you motivate yourself?

First, set sensible goals. Don't make them airy-fairy or impossible. Think hard about them and write them down. Then prioritize them.

Suppose you want to expand your company, take it into new markets. Planned growth is the only way to go. Don't let yourself get caught in the trap of uncontrolled expansion. That can overextend any company. If you want to tackle a new market, that's fine. But make sure you've got the market you're already in under control. Remember: underpromise and overdeliver.

Read good books. Those of you who read are already aware of the value of reading, and the influence it can have on both you and your company. Select business books that are of value to you, and that will help you to get where you want to go. In my own book, Leadership from Within, you'll find a lot of information to guide you. Or pick up one of the all-time business classics, such as Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Watch good movies. You might be surprised at the impact a good movie will have on self-motivation. There are lots of them around. Watch them critically. Don't just let them go by you. Try to select those you think will help you - but don't be afraid to take motivation where it occurs, no matter how unlikely the source.

A few years ago I took my grandchildren to see the movie Shrek. It just blew me away. For months after it wouldn't let me go. It kept recurring to me every once in a while until I decided I had to think about it more seriously.

Then it hit me. The movie was about leadership. In the guise of a children's film it illustrates five elements of leadership, similar to what I outline in my book Leadership from Within. So I decided I had to write an article about the parallels. It was published in a national newspaper, and those who read it instantly got the point.

I began to receive letters, especially from teachers, who thought both the article and the movie illustrated the best characteristics of leadership as they were trying to teach it in courses to teens and pre-teens. They asked permission to use the material as a teaching aid. For me that brings great satisfaction, especially since my grandchildren (and not CEO's) talked me into going to the movie in the first place!

Watch good TV programs. There is a series from Edmonton on Canadian Learning TV (find it at that offers a wide range of courses - which includes business courses - that you will find interesting. Check it out. There will be something there for you, no question.

Look after your body. It should go without saying that good health is a requisite for proper functioning. If you feel unwell all the time, you can hardly feel the thrill of motivation, or expect to motivate others. Set yourself an reasonable realistic exercise program, and follow it every day, or at least a couple of times a week. Try to make exercise fun. Don't just do the grind. Set it up so you can enjoy it.

Work at rewarding projects. Without question the most useful self-motivator is to set up programs you enjoy working at. They can be personal, corporate, or externally oriented. Let me give you an example.

I always used to envy the skills of those guys who could ride a motorcycle. But the idea of riding one myself always scared me. I could never quite see myself as one of those daredevil Gentlemen of the Road.

But a couple of years ago I decided that I had been scared long enough. I would learn to ride a motorcycle, and that was that. So I bought the helmet and the gear, took the lessons (with all the teenagers), and learned how to ride a motorbike. It took me all one spring and summer, but it was one of the best projects I ever embarked on.

That was a personal project, and many are like that. Maybe yours will be corporate. The point is to look for something that will bring you personal satisfaction, and then pursue it at whatever speed you feel comfortable at.

Don't worry, though, if you don't feel personally motivated all the time. Most of us have periods of slight depression from time to time.

One of the best ways of dealing with a 'downer' is to try to help someone else. In fact, if you can't think of a personal or corporate project that will bring you satisfaction, think about getting involved in something charitable. There are so many causes that have such a great need for volunteers and leaders that they will welcome you with open arms. And one thing is certain. Charitable work often gives back tenfold what you put into it. You have less time to worry about yourself when you're concerned with others.

The main thing is not to de-motivate others by laying your problems on them. Just leave them at home when you deal with your employees. That's part of your job at the top.

Peter Urs Bender is one of Canada's most dynamic and entertaining business speakers. He lives and works out of Toronto. He is the author of four best-selling business books: Leadership from Within, Secrets of Power Presentations, Secrets of Power Marketing,, Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication, and Gutfeeling.
To read excerpts from his books visit

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