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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.

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