A Time for Practical Inspiration

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.

~John Quincy Adams

What inspires us to do what we do? From ancient philosophers to modern-day behavioral scientists, many people have sought answers to that question. What makes motivation tricky is that sometimes we know why we’ve decided to do something, but often, we don’t. For a leader, the implications are a big deal. How do you motivate people if they don’t fully understand their own motivations? Many years ago, I had one of those ‘aha’ moments that gave me an insight into that question with the help of a friendly ghost named Harley.

Like most 1st graders, there were times when my daughter and her friends would do something a little (or a lot) outside of the rules. When asked by a teacher why, the answer was often, “We don’t know,” followed by, “We didn’t do it.” When pressed a little further about who did, the answer was often, “It was the Harley Ghost.” (the Harley Ghost was a friendly, frequent visitor at the primary school she attended in upstate New York). The conversation then turned to why the Harley Ghost shouldn’t have done that and what the consequences should be if it happened again. This friendly apparition was an ingenious invention by the teachers to help young children make behaviors that they often genuinely didn’t understand more conscious and “self-managed.” Equally impressive is how the teachers intuitively motivated those children by keeping their approach human, simple, and balanced—a valuable lesson for any leader wanting to inspire motivation.

Keep it Human
What makes motivation tricky is that sometimes we know why we’ve decided to do something, but more often, we don’t.  I love the John Quincy Adam quote, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” Because it wonderfully captures the human essence of motivation. Motivating people at work, and especially if you add the additional challenge of leading remotely, is about meeting people’s needs, needs that are universal across time zones, roles, and cultures. We all want to find purpose in our work, have a desire to develop the skills to realize that purpose, and then be given the freedom to pursue our purpose. Meeting those very human needs is the key to helping people thrive.
Keep it Simple

When you help people meet those universal needs, you enable them to do their best and be their best. It isn’t rocket science, but it is behavioral science. Focusing on these three actions will go a long way to inspire motivation and build trust on your team:

  • Help each team member understand how their work makes a difference to the team and their own aspirations. Purpose is what gets us out of bed energized and believing that we are doing something worthwhile.
  • Invest in your people. Help them develop the competencies that gives them the confidence that they can achieve their purpose and goals. Feeling confident is fundamental to our performance.
  • Give people the freedom to do their jobs and demonstrate their capabilities.
Keeping it Balanced
Inspiring motivation and building trust are always important. In a work world that is suddenly changing with many unknowns and anxieties, it is essential. You can quickly bring those three essential ingredients of motivation into your regular conversations with each team member. The key is keeping them in balance. Think of the three actions as representing the sides of an equilateral triangle. A few years ago, I was working with a new manager, Michael. He was excited about his role and found great purpose in it. Michael was also on a steep learning curve and needed to develop several new skills to be successful. In the early days of his role, he often pushed back on my coaching and what he saw as hand-holding. When I demonstrated (by allowing him to make a few mistakes) that my goal wasn’t to micromanage but to help him to successfully navigate his learning curve and then give him the full freedom to lead, Michael understood the importance of balance. With a little practice, you’ll find the motivational triangle to be a useful framework for conversations with team members. Especially when those happen over a video call. During my nearly eight years in Asia with HP, most team meetings and discussions with team members were remote. Keeping people motivated and building trust when you’re limited to a few in-person meetings a year is a challenge. By regularly talking with people about their sense of purpose; making sure that they were getting the training and support to achieve that purpose; and that they felt that they had the freedom to pursue it, those conversations can be enjoyable and productive.
Inspiring Every Day

Inspiring motivation and building trust are always important. In a work world that is suddenly changing with many unknowns and anxieties, it is essential. When you help people find purpose and align it with the goals of your team and organization, invest in their skills to realize that purpose, and then give them the freedom to pursue it, you’ll unlock energy and foster higher engagement and improved performance. Equally importantly, by keeping your approach human, simple, and balanced, your people won’t have to imagine a world in which they wake up looking forward to their work, have a great day working with great people and finish their day fulfilled. They’ll live it. Now that is inspiring!


Dr. Jeb S. Hurley
Dr. Jeb S. Hurley
Dr. Hurley, the co-founder of Xmetryx, has deep expertise in team science and team leader development, and his passion is inspiring leaders to craft extraordinary teams. Jeb’s career journey began on new product innovation teams in Europe and Asia. This led to GM / VP and CEO roles at companies ranging from Fortune 500 to VC backed startups, as well as co-founding 3 software companies. After nearly 30 years in VP, GM, and CEO roles, Dr. Hurley spent five years walking in the shoes of today's team leaders while earning his doctorate in leadership. He experienced what was and wasn't working on the front lines and combined his research with insights from the best minds in the field of team science. His TRM workshop is based upon his groundbreaking research into human motivation, employee engagement, and team performance. Jeb regularly speaks and writes about team leadership and improving employee wellbeing and is the author of Team Relationship Management: The Art of Crafting Extraordinary Teams, as well as The ONE Habit: The Ultimate Guide to Increasing Engagement & Building Highly-Effective Teams. Jeb has published over 50 articles on team leadership and is a Columnist and Featured Contributor for BIZCATALYST 360°. See Jeb's full bio, and connect with him, on LinkedIn.