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How can I motivate my team when I don’t feel motivated myself?

Companies are living organisms and, to thrive in rapidly changing times, they need to constantly renew and reinvent themselves. That means changes to structures, roles, processes and priorities. A successful organization is always in a beta state; always becoming; never static. Inevitably that can lead to increased uncertainty and periods of ambiguity. It can be challenging to know how to redefine yourself, your contribution and that of your team. It can be tough to manage your own emotional response to a new set of circumstances. As leaders of people we can sometimes feel overwhelmed, confused and unsure how to re-energize ourselves and our team. On the other hand, we are expected to break the cycle of demotivation and act like shock absorbers, coping with whatever is thrown at us and acting as a source of inspiration to the people who rely on us.

So, what can we do when we are responsible for energizing our team, but when our own energy levels are low, having been blasted by a wind tunnel of change? Firstly, it’s not about hiding your emotions, having a fake smile or being falsely optimistic. It starts with managing our own emotional reactions. Here are 5 ways to have a positive impact on yourself and others in times of organizational turbulence:

Your reactions are your responsibility, so take charge of them. No person or situation can make us feel anything. We all have a choice in how we react to others and to our circumstances. The choices we make will directly impact on our motivation. If we blame others (eg. ‘them’, ‘the system’) for how we feel by judging them, we fail to take responsibility for our reactions; if we blame ourselves ‘for not being good enough’ we end up in the role of victim. Negative feelings such as being ‘frustrated’, worried’ or ‘insecure’ occur because our needs are not being met. Be curious. Take some distance (and a few deep breathes). Find out what your unmet needs are. Take control of the feelings by labeling them. Then think about how you can satisfy your needs in new ways. For example, you may feel frustrated because your need for autonomy is not being met like before. In the new circumstances how can you satisfy this need for autonomy? Be creative with yourself.

Surround yourself with energizing conversations about possibility. It’s tempting to have conversations with others who share your feelings. There is a reassuring comfort in meeting up and shaking our heads together about ‘how it used to be’ and justifying why the change we’re being asked to make ‘just won’t work’. But these types of conversations will just feed our negativity and provide an excuse for doing nothing to transform our mood. Instead, search out and connect with colleagues who reinvent themselves when their circumstances change. We recognize them immediately. They are ‘Yes and…’ people, not ‘Yes, but…’ people. They elevate the focus of every conversation from survival to possibility. They bring a genuine and contagious spirit of enthusiasm that makes the challenges faced seem insignificant in the context of a greater purpose they are committed to fulfill. Go to them when you are feeling in low spirits. For example, changes disrupt the status quo and have the potential to get departments and teams to rethink and renew their relationships with each other. So why not explore together how the positive disruptive impact of a change can open up new opportunities for greater collaboration between you. Take the chance to use the change as a bridge to cross departmental or country boundaries, rather than close up and defend ‘your team territory’.

Keep things simple. All day long we have a silent constant conversation with ourselves at up to 4,000 words per minute – 10 times faster than normal speech. And because ‘we know what we mean’ we don’t even have to use complete sentences, so it’s a very condensed conversation.  This is where we tell ourselves elaborate stories, light up fragmented thoughts like fireworks and create elaborate cause and effect relationships. When we are anxious these conversations often project the worst case scenario and can verge on paranoia. This noise in our head can be overwhelming and paralyze us. But these thoughts are all about you. And by getting the focus off of you and onto a greater purpose you can make many of your debilitating and negative emotions disappear – leaving room for thoughts focused on transforming the future. So next time you find yourself deafened by the noise of your inner speech, stop and focus on three simple questions: “What is the greater purpose I’m focusing on here in my company?”, “What can I do to make the biggest contribution to this purpose?” and “What’s the first small step I will take now?” Then take that step. Now. We can work out later how we could have taken that step better. For now we don’t need to be perfect, but we do have to get going and move forward. Making concrete progress towards something which has meaning for us is always energizing. It changes the conversation inside us too.

Understand the feelings and needs in your team. As you start to take control of your own emotions, needs, support networks, purpose and commitment to action you are in a more balanced place to take the next step: understanding the important unmet needs within your team and how that makes them feel. With this information, it’s easier for you to find ways to satisfy their needs. For example, you can find out who can take on additional responsibility when opportunities arise by matching the work with their needs. Show how they can develop in the new activity by learning and cultivating more skills. Identify together the next step they can take now and how you can support them. Get other people moving forward. Counteract inertia with movement.

Celebrate and share the positive success stories: When you are navigating in a new context requiring new skills, you can shift your focus from performing perfectly to consistently learning and improving. Similarly, your own team members are looking for clues to reduce their uncertainty, so publicize the concrete successes and progress you are all making as you take small steps to achieve your outcomes linked to a greater purpose. If your team is praised by others – let them know. In times of uncertainty people want to hear that their contribution matters, so now is the time to increase unsolicited and unexpected positive recognition for their efforts. They look to you to counteract the anxiety they feel in facing the discomfort of adapting to new challenges. You don’t have to feel motivated to behave in a motivating way towards others. You can listen, share successes, give positive feedback, etc. even if you don’t feel like it. You don’t have to get permission from your feelings to act according to your values, and it’s always easier to behave your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think your way into a new way of behaving.

So, in summary:

Take charge of your own emotions – develop response-ability (an ability to choose how to respond)

Go out and build a support network of people around you who will energize you and get you focused on future possibilities

Deal with the conversations in your head and take a single step towards a purpose which has meaning for you and your organisation

Then understand how you can support your team by getting to know their unmet needs and how that shows up in their feelings

Focus on positive feedback as people start learning how to do new things, rather than on perfect performance – behave your way into a new way of thinking with concrete success stories (we are doing it; it’s happening; it’s real!), rather than thinking your way into a new way of behaving.

To learn more about how we accelerate Global Agility: the ability to think, act and create value in an interconnected VUCA world go to the Gobal Agility section of our website.

Change, Tips

BREAKING NEWS: certain types are more successful in navigating today’s global workplace – and organisations are failing to promote them!

In case you haven’t heard about it yet, a multidisciplinary team of neuro-scientists and decision theory specialists at Cambridge University have just unveiled astonishing preliminary results on human genetic analysis based on sophisticated neuroimaging research. The data clearly suggest that people with certain genetic makeups are significantly more successful in working internationally and in handling the complexity, ambiguity, unpredictability and volatility of today’s business world.

Are you one of the people researchers are calling ‘global surfers’?

Surprisingly, what the researchers are also discovering is that rather than valuing these neurologically and genetically ‘advanced’ types, organisations are actually systematically filtering them out as they move further up in the management ranks, they are also being sent on international assignments in only 20% of cases and, perhaps worse of all, they are even paying them less. As you can guess many of these ‘global surfers’ are leaving the organisation disillusioned and unfulfilled. Sounds crazy, right? Why would organisations choose to actually reduce their international competitive advantage by dissuading these innately global types from taking on key roles in the company? Because these neurologically and genetically ‘advanced’ types are…women.

And the above ‘research’ is just a provocative piece of playful fake news to get you to consider some hard facts.

Here they are. Research in Italy shows that less than one in two women work, even though 59.7% of graduates are women. These women graduate earlier and with higher grades than men. The pay gap for women is on average 17% less than men. Only one woman in ten in Italy is in a middle management position. Yet the International Monetary Fund study of 2016 has shown significant increases in profitability for every woman who enters the top leadership team or Board.  The Boston Consulting Group Innovation through Diversity Report in February 2017 shows that there is a high correlation between more balanced gender diversity in management teams and innovation revenues – especially in large and complex companies. The Bank of Italy has shown that if female employment rises to just 60% the GDP in Italy would rise by 7%. The graph from a McKinsey report in 2015 below charts European women’s reduction in presence at each successive career step. 


TCO International has recently started partnering with Valore D to develop the ‘Global Agility & International Mindset’ of women in its membership of 156 companies which employ over one million people in Italy. Valore D is Italy’s leading association to promote diversity and female talent and leadership for organisational and national growth. At the kick-off event for an ‘accelerating path’  for 39 women middle managers I was struck by the precision with which organisations are shooting themselves in the foot by not having more women in senior management. Our own focus in TCO International on creating value out of diversity is often impeded by finding ourselves in front of leadership teams with ties on.

Valore D initiated its ‘Accelerating Path’ for women talents to help close the gap in women’s strategic positioning in organisations. Women managers tend to be more present in Shared Services, Admin and HR roles (24%) but less so in strategic roles such as CFO and Strategy (16.5%), Operations (9.9%) and CEO (3.9%).  The focus of the development path is therefore on preparing women for these underrepresented roles. The aim is to close the competence deficit. This is one way to gain parity of presence at the top.

Our own program with Valore D takes an opposite approach. It is about valuing a competence gap which already exists between men and women – and where women are intrinsically more able – and which we believe is central to meeting the key leadership challenge for today’s organisations: Global Agility – the ability to think, act and create value in an interconnected VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) world.


Here is why. Back in 2009, with our partners in WorldWork Ltd we published (Cultus, 2009) an analysis of the database of respondents to The International Profiler questionnaire focusing on 22 factors which contribute to success in an international context. We found significant differences between the emphasis men and women gave to the international competency set. Women gave remarkably similar emphasis in areas of international competency to those, irrespective of gender, who had lived abroad for at least 18 months abroad as an adult (expats). Women tended to show an intrinsic expatriate mindset and skillset even if they had never had such an experience. Compared to men, women have a significantly higher focus on spirit of adventure, valuing differences, relationship building skills in unfamiliar contexts, adaptive languages skills and acceptance of local approaches. In higher growth Asian and South American markets they are more able to match the implicit local communication styles and read between the lines. Men, on the other hand, seem to take a stronger ‘push’ orientation, focus on longer-term goals without being distracted along the way, communicating their intention clearly and showing sensitivity to the formal and informal power structures which influence decision-making.

It seems that in navigating as a ‘minority in a foreign land’ woman had tended to build up the experience and skills needed by expats, but in their own companies in their own country.  The irony is that recent relocation reports show that less than 20% of women are selected for expat assignments.

Not only do women tend to have a higher natural state of readiness for international assignments but the very competencies which expats develop as a result of their adaptation to the unfamiliar, unpredictable and ambiguous nature of their new environment are precisely those which organisations need even in domestic contexts. Today’s managers are expected to be adaptive to complex, changing and unpredictable scenarios impacting on the business. Top teams exhort their middle management to take more risks, think bigger and be more intrapreneurial – networking with less predictable partners in the pursuit of innovation opportunities. Women’s significantly higher focus on seeking out bungie jumping variety (high Spirit of Adventure scores) suggests that they are more adept at operating in a world with lower levels of personal control.  This requirement to make things happen, less by a push focused, directive style and more by horizontal influence across the role and task ambiguity in today’s matrix structures is playing to women’s strengths. Women are simply more able to draw on pull influencing styles – as our own work on exploring TCO’s Influencing Agility questionnaire database shows.

There is a double irony in all this. Many women have developed home-based expatriate experience like a phoenix from the ashes of their career paths in their local country organisations. At the same time, these extended ‘foreign assignments in my local neighbourhood’, have now prepared women for greater readiness for the new VUCA world which is no longer just the territory of pioneering expats.

Can this neurologically and genetically advanced group of ‘global surfers’ finally get the recognition that they have core competencies basic for today’s organisational survival and growth? The madness is to go on as before.

We look forward to having an equal balance of gender in our Global Agility open programs so that we can also accelerate women’s innate and acquired skills, boosting their real competitive advantage in todays’ promotion stakes.

PS With a coherent belief in the power of diversity and inclusion, Valore D’s catalogue programs are open to both men and women 😉

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