How to Encourage Your Team in Leadership(1)
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    How to Encourage Your Team When Times are Tough

    by Sara J. Baker, Ed.D.

    You know that feeling when your team is struggling and it’s hard to stay positive? It can be difficult to encourage them in the midst of chaos and difficult times. But as Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

    Don’t worry! You can learn how to keep your team motivated and how to stay motivated yourself in the midst of chaos and difficult times. Let’s explore what motivates people at work, why motivation matters for leaders, how we can motivate others through praise or rewards, and finally offer some tips on staying motivated ourselves during times of trouble.

    What Motivates People At Work?

    All of us, as individuals and as part of a team, have certain things that motivate us at work. Some people are motivated by big goals and challenging projects while others thrive on feedback and recognition.

    When you’re trying to stay positive and encourage your team, it’s important to know what motivates them so that you can speak to those motivations. For example, if a teammate is motivated by challenging projects and you offer her something that’s too easy, she may lose interest.

    Instead of speaking to their motivations, we often try to motivate people by trying to turn what they don’t like or appreciate about their current situation into a positive.

    For example, if your team is struggling with a tight deadline, you might say something like “we don’t have enough time to do this right.” While technically true, this statement speaks to what they’re already feeling negative about. Instead of assuming that they feel the same way as you do about their deadlines or time restraints, try speaking to them in a way that draws out their own motivations.

    For example, you can say something like “I know this deadline seems tight but I’m sure if we work together we can figure out a way to do it faster.”

    Or, if they seem unmotivated by the task at hand you may try saying something like “this project is really important to the company in improving service for our customers” or “I know that this task seems boring but it will be really helpful for our team (or, even better, the customer) in the long run.”

    Approaching their situation like this will help you understand them better and speak to them in a way that encourages growth instead of simply trying to motivate them.

    Why Does Motivation Matter For Leaders?

    We often think of motivation as a thing that only matters to the people doing the work, but it’s important for leaders to understand why motivating your team is crucial.

    Without sufficient motivation, your team will not be able to move with purpose and make progress towards their goals. If you want to get anything done with your team, you need them motivated and invested in the work that you’re doing together.

    If your team is not motivated they will struggle to have faith in their own abilities, which can cause them to lose self-confidence and become demotivated. If this happens it will be much more difficult for them to accomplish their goals, no matter how talented or skilled they are.

    Can We Motivate Others Through Praise Or Rewards?

    There are a few different ways that you can encourage your team. In the absence of tasks that appeal to their motivations, you may try to motivate them by offering praise and rewards for a job well done. To do this, simply express your appreciation for what your team members have achieved.

    You could say something as simple as “I’m impressed with what you did on this project” or “thank you for going the extra mile to make sure that we got this done on time.”

    Offer specific praise. In addition to simply saying thank you, try offering specific praise. This will be much more meaningful to your team members because it will show that you really understand the work they’ve done and how it has helped you or your team.

    You can say something like “I’m so impressed with the way that you handled yourself during our last team meeting” or “thanks for pushing back on our client when she was being difficult.”

    This is also a great opportunity to point out what your team members did that helped you or your team accomplish your goals. Most importantly, make sure any praise is sincere.

    Why Is It Important To Be Specific?

    Being specific about the areas in which you’re offering praise will help your team feel more motivated because they will understand exactly what you liked about their work. This can also prevent confusion about what your expectations are so that they don’t feel like you’re trying to be vague or avoid saying something negative about your team.

    Does It Ever Hurt To Give Praise?

    While some leaders are worried that employees will become complacent if they are too reliant on positive reinforcement, this is rarely the case. It is probably more natural for most of us as leaders to talk about the barriers we are facing or the weak areas we need to shore up than it is for us to talk about how great we (and our team) are performing.

    It is human nature to focus on the negative and the challenges we face.

    Just think about it, how often do people stand around chatting in the office talking about the good things that are happening? Not often. Because, as a species, we somehow are drawn to the bad news, the sensationalism of things gone wrong.

    With that perspective, it is unlikely that you are going to overwhelm your team with positivity to the point that they start slacking. Of course, it is also your responsibility to provide feedback to help your team to continue to grow, which does include providing some constructive criticism for areas they can improve in.

    One study showed that teams who received about 6 positive comments for every negative comment were more successful than those who received less. Low-performing teams received on average about 3 negative comments for every 1 positive comment.

    Negative feedback definitely is needed when egregious behaviors are impeding work performance, but, in general, positive feedback is far more motivating and will result in higher performance.

    Why Is Feedback Important?

    You can’t expect to be able to inspire your employees by continually pointing out what they haven’t done correctly. This will not only foster resentment in your team but it will also prevent them from feeling motivated to continue bringing their best work forward.

    Objective and constructive feedback is an important part of leading people, but always focusing your energy on what has gone wrong will create a team culture of despondency and negativity.

    Your feedback should be balanced between what needs to be improved and what is done well. By focusing on giving praise about what your team does well, you are pointing out and helping them realize what their strengths are if they haven’t already discovered this. You would be surprised how many people aren’t really sure what they are good at.

    Sometimes the self-talk people hear in their heads is so focused on what they should do better, that they don’t notice when they have done something great or what area they excel in.

    So What Should You Do When Things Are Tough?

    While motivating employees can often be difficult, especially when you or your team are facing important challenges, it is possible with the right approach. The trick is to turn these challenges into opportunities for your team to feel motivated and engaged in the work they are doing.

    The first thing you can do is remember that your team members are human beings who have feelings and emotions just like you. When they’re struggling it’s important not to avoid them or brush their concerns off as inconsequential.

    If your employees are feeling overwhelmed, fearful, or discouraged, the worst thing you can do is ignore what they are telling you or pretend that everything is fine.

    Instead, take time to understand what they are going through and try to offer them encouragement. One of the most important things you can do when your team members need support is to ensure that they feel heard and understood.

    If you’re able to help them by offering advice or connecting them with someone who might be able to help, they will notice that you care. When they feel like you’re willing to go the extra mile to make sure their concerns are addressed, this can have a huge impact on how motivated your team feels in the long run.

    What Are Ways That Leaders Can Motivate Their Teams During Difficult Times?

    One way that you can keep your team motivated is by demonstrating your own investment in the success of the team.

    If you seem like you’re not interested in what your employees are working on, it can be difficult for them to stay motivated since they probably don’t feel as if their work is important. In addition to offering specific praise when your team accomplishes something great, you should also show that you care about what they are working on so that they know that their time and effort are appreciated.

    Additionally, it’s important to focus on the positive whenever you can since research shows that those who are motivated tend to be cheerful and optimistic. One of the best ways to ensure that your team members feel as if they have a bright future is by making sure that they understand what’s in it for them.

    Asking questions like “how do we get from where we are to where we want to be?” and “how will we benefit from this experience?” can help you ensure that your employees feel excited about the work they are doing. Try stepping back and thinking about what you would find attractive about a new job or assignment since these positive feelings will make it easier for them to keep motivated in the face of challenges and setbacks.

    Find the courage to keep working to encourage your team during tough times.

    Why Is It Important To Give Your Team A “Why?”

    While you should always try to focus on the positive when it comes to your leadership style, this is especially true during difficult times. Employees who feel as if they are just following orders because someone told them that they have to will not only lose motivation quickly, but they are also unlikely to feel fulfilled by their work.

    This makes it even more critical that you share your “why” with your team so they can understand the larger purpose behind each new project or goal.

    When you are working on difficult projects, remember to take things one step at a time. It can be easy for leaders to get discouraged when it seems as if a project is going to be much bigger and more complicated than originally anticipated.

    However, it’s important for you to remember that your team will need your support in order to stay motivated when times get tough. So, before you lose hope, remember that your ability to encourage and motivate those around you is what will help the project succeed in the end.

    How Can Leaders Stay Motivated During These Difficult Times?

    In addition to focusing on bringing out the best in your employees when things seem impossible, it’s also important to remember that if you’re feeling burned out or struggling personally, your team is likely to feel the same way.

    In order for your employees to be happy and productive at work, they need a leader who can set a strong example for them by remaining positive and enthusiastic even when there are difficulties. Try taking a few minutes during the day to think about all of the positive things in your life since this can help you feel more motivated and optimistic.

    Finally, keep in mind that it’s important not to give up when things get tough. While it is normal for anyone to feel sad or discouraged from time to time, if you find yourself feeling this way constantly, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate what could be causing these negative feelings.

    It might be helpful for you to speak to a counselor or trusted friend who can offer some perspective on your situation.

    What Should I Do If I Think A Team Member Is Struggling With Serious Depression?

    If you think that one of your team members might be struggling with serious depression, it’s important to approach them in a supportive and understanding way. Depression can make it difficult for people to cope with everyday tasks, so it’s important for you to be there for them and provide as much encouragement as possible.

    Try asking them if they’d like to talk with you about what’s going on in their life, but make sure that you keep things professional and don’t try to overstep boundaries by offering medical advice or pushing the conversation in a direction that makes your team member uncomfortable.

    If it seems as if your team member is struggling with motivation or has recently had a major personal setback, it can be helpful to offer your support during this difficult time. While you might want to help them brainstorm ideas for how to overcome these challenges, try not to take over the conversation by offering too many suggestions of your own.

    Finally, remember that if all else fails, you should ask your team member if they would like to speak with someone else for guidance. If you think that they are showing signs of serious depression, it might be helpful for them to speak with a counselor or other mental health expert who can guide them through these difficult times.

    Checking with your Human Resources department for possible resources to share is a good place to start.

    How Can I Keep Encouraging My Team?

    By following these tips, it should be easier for you and your employees to find ways to remain motivated and focused when times get tough. By appreciating what we have and focusing on the positive, it should be easy to see why these difficulties are temporary.

    With this in mind, remember that no matter how difficult things might seem right now, you should always be able to find something positive about the situation. Crafting an effective message for your employees can make it much easier to find this silver lining, so try following these tips as closely as possible.

    By keeping their spirits up, you might even help your employees handle whatever life throws at them with a little more ease.

    When difficult times occur, it can be difficult to stay positive. But when things are tough, you need to remember that the best way to get through these challenges is by surrounding yourself with positivity and appreciation for all of the good things in your life.

    Looking for More?

    If you’re looking for more tips on how to stay positive and motivated during difficult times, be sure to check out our online course Breakthrough Leadership Strategies. This course is packed with helpful information and practical advice. So if you’re looking to improve your leadership skills, this is the perfect place to start.

    Dr. Sara Baker, Founder of the Leadership Reformation

    About the Author

    Dr. Sara Baker is an advocate for positive leadership and healthy workplaces. With over 20 years of experience leading private and public organizations, she understands the challenges that employees and leaders face every day.

    Sara is the author of Toxic Workplace Survival Guide, an essential resource for anyone who wants to thrive in spite of a toxic work environment. In addition to her writing, Sara provides online courses for leadership development and coping with a toxic workplace.

    Dr. Sara Baker, Founder of the Leadership Reformation

    About the Author

    Dr. Sara Baker is an advocate for positive leadership and healthy workplaces. With over 20 years of experience leading private and public organizations, she understands the challenges that employees and leaders face every day.

    Sara is the author of Toxic Workplace Survival Guide, an essential resource for anyone who wants to thrive in spite of a toxic work environment. In addition to her writing, Sara provides online courses for leadership development and coping with a toxic workplace.

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