‘Once more with feeling’ – Lessons from the motivationally challenged

IMG_5372If you’ve ever watched the toe-curling management practices of David Brent in ‘The Office’ you’ll probably have been reminded of at least one motivationally-challenged boss in your career.

“Not a thank you, not even a cup of coffee”, was the first thing a friend said when he summed up an end of year ‘motivational talk’ with a senior boss in the very large company he works for. After a tough year, working under very challenging conditions, and having still managed to turn in one of the top performances in his field, the end of year meeting would have been a great opportunity to say thanks and mean it. Instead, the star-performers in the team endured an hour-long monologue about the need to work even harder in the year to come,

Support and Challenge

In an age of motivational enlightenment, it’s incredible that managers still get it wrong. In their latest book, Creative Confidence, Tom and David Kelley highlight the vast chasm between ‘minimiser’ managers, who typically try to eradicate free will and creativity amongst their teams, and ‘multiplier’ leaders, who seek out the exact opposite. The best motivators I’ve met know that it doesn’t take much to bring out the best in others. Follow some of their simplest techniques to hit the sweet spot on the support and challenge continuum:


  • Ask for input –giving someone the space to share their thinking is an incredible sign of respect.
  • Make introductions – to people and forums that will hasten progress and access to the right information and experience.
  • Thank and praise often – making sure people know what they are being thanked or praised for.


  • Encourage risk taking – challenge people to have a go at opportunities they might be shying away from.
  • Raise the bar – nudge it higher when goal setting to create a stretch.
  • Put them in charge –name someone as the ‘go-to’ person for a project or leader of a meeting. Quietly coach behind the scenes.

Using this mix of techniques on a regular basis, little and often, builds immense trust, mutual respect and confidence. It’s the simplest set of techniques anyone can use, and you don’t need to wait until you’re the official ‘boss’ to have a go. So counteract the soul-crushing techniques of our hapless manager in the opening title by trying this out on all around.


‘Once more with feeling’ – Lessons from the motivationally challenged — 2 Comments

  1. Thanks for this post Alison. The power of “Thankyou” is such an important thing to remember.

  2. Great post Alison. Reminds me of my favourite Brentism, “There’s no i in team, but there’s a me if you look hard enough!”