Sometimes, it’s the simple little things that get you further ahead in leadership than you imagine.

Simple things that, honestly, most of us forget because we’re too busy.

In the everyday hustle of answering 100 emails, jumping from meeting to meeting and moving in and out of dozens of conversations, we forget what really motivates people and makes them grateful.

And next thing we notice, morale has slipped.

Performance drops.

The mood has shifted.

And if we’re not careful, good people start drifting away, stepping back or leaving.

These three little things won’t solve any deep culture issues (I show you how to create a great culture here), but it will help stop the day to day drift, discouragement and indifference that characterize so many workplaces.

The challenge is that in most settings, work becomes transactional. It’s all about getting things done, and we forget that the people we work with have emotions, feelings and things that motivate and demotivate them.

Don’t miss this: leadership will become transactional if you let it. So don’t let it.

Here are three simple phrases you should master and memorize to help your team stay motivated.

1.How Are You?

I know this feels like kindergarten…seriously, the simple phrase “How are you?” is a key to motivating your team?

Well, yes.

The reality is, as a leader you will always be tempted to restrict your conversations with your team to what they’re doing.

But as my friend Jeff Henderson once told me, wise leaders talk to a team member about how they’re doing just as much as they ask them about what they’re doing.

I start pretty much every one-on-one meeting with a team member with the question “So how are you?” And then I don’t let them give me a one word answer.

There are so many benefits to this. First, they’ll know you care, because you do. A surprising number of people don’t care how anyone else is doing, so that puts you in rare company.

Second, you’ll learn a lot about the team members you work with. Your conversation and relationship will be deeper and richer.

Finally, when things aren’t going well, having the deeper conversation allows you to sort through whether work is creating the problem or whether the problem is outside their job.

The default for most people is to blame work, but you’ll be surprised how many times an team member, after sorting through their issue with you in real time, will conclude by saying “You know, this doesn’t have much to do with work, but thank you for caring.”

That helps them (because they’ve isolated the issue) and it helps you (because the default in our culture is to hate our jobs and blame our bosses). You’ve become an ally in their desire to make life better.

Leaders who care tend to end up with teams that care.

2. Thanks for Helping Us _______

I love this little phrase because it does two things. First, it expresses much needed gratitude. See below for more on that.

But second, it reminds people of the mission. And that’s the point. Just fill in the blank with your mission.

In our case at our church, I might say “Thanks for helping us create a church unchurched people love” or “Thanks for helping us lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus.”  That’s a simple and succinct summary of our mission and vision.

In my company that runs my blog, books, speaking and leadership podcast, I’ll tell team members “Thanks for helping people thrive” because our mission is just that: to help people thrive in life and leadership.

What you’re doing with this simple phrase is connecting dots.

You’re helping your team members realize that they are directly helping a mission that’s bigger than you and bigger than them.

After all, nobody wants to work for you. You and I are not motivation enough.

But people are designed and created to work toward a mission bigger than you and bigger than all of us.

So go back to your mission, again and again and let people see how they’re accomplishing it.

Don’t have a mission that’s bigger than you? Well, that’s a whole other level of problem.

If that’s the case, then it should be no mystery why you have difficult attracting and keeping a great team.

3. I’m Grateful for You

Two out of three phrases listed here spring from gratitude.

Gratitude is a master virtue for leaders because most people feel under-appreciated or unappreciated at work (not to mention in life).

If you’re wondering whether that true, just ask yourself: do you feel adequately appreciated for all you do?

Didn’t think so. So let’s continue.

Here’s what’s at stake. If you don’t express your gratitude, that unexpressed gratitude will eventually become regret because once someone leaves, it’s too late.

A great leader, feeling unappreciated, decides to move on and your main emotion (after shock) is a profound sadness.

For that reason, leaders, unexpressed gratitude eventually becomes deeply felt regret.

Your best people will move on if they feel unappreciated or under appreciated.

Why? Because people gravitate to where they’re valued most.

You do. So does your team.

A Fun Little Bonus

You know how else you can cast vision and motivate the team? Every time you send an email.

Bake these into your email and you can motivate every time you connect.

Something like:

Hi _________,

Hope things are going well for you!

Hey….(main subject)

Anyway, I appreciate you! Thanks for helping us move the mission forward.


See how simple that is?

The Little Things Are Bigger Than You Think

So what sinks many leaders? It tends not to be the hard skills: talent, ability or competency.

Way too often you see capable leaders fall or at least never reach their potential because they ignored other issues. Like the three little things above. Or, more significantly, because they’ve grown cynical, they’ve compromised their character, or they’ve grown proud or disconnected or even after tremendous success, just feel a profound emptiness that leads them to behaviour they wish they hadn’t embraced…or despair.

I tackle those kind of issues in my new book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.

You can diagnose your cynicism (Chapter 1 is free and available for reading now)  here.

Here’s what top leaders are saying about Didn’t See It Coming:

“Seriously, this may be the most important book you read this year.” Jud Wilhite, Lead Pastor, Central Church

“Powerful, personal, and highly readable. ” Brian Houston, Global Senior Pastor, Hillsong

“Whatever challenge you’re facing, whatever obstacle you’re hoping to overcome, whatever future you dream or imagine, there is something powerful for you here.” Andy Stanley, Founder, North Point Ministries

“Uncommonly perceptive and generous…You have to read this book.” Ann Voskamp, NYT bestselling author

“Masterful.” Reggie Joiner, CEO Orange

“Deep biblical insight, straightforward truth, and practical wisdom to help you grow.” Craig Groeschel, Pastor and NYT bestselling author

“This book is sure to help you.” Daniel H. Pink, NYT bestselling author

Over the years, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a public speaker is having opportunities to hang out with Carey…It’s not a matter of if you’ll run into these challenges; it’s a matter of when. Be prepared by spending a little time with a leader who has already been there.” Jon Acuff, NYT best-selling author

“Nieuwhof’s book provides expert guidance…with an accuracy that pierces the heart.” Nancy Duarte, CEO Duarte Inc.

“A refreshingly transparent guide for all leaders in a wide variety of industries.” Bryan Miles, Co-Founder and CEO, BELAY

Wise leaders see it coming and deal with it long before they fall to the issues that take out so many others.

You can learn more and get your copy of Didn’t See It Coming here.

Any Other Phrases?

Have some other simple phrases you’d add to this list?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

3 Very Simple Phrases That Will Motivate Your Team Way More Than You Think


  1. […] 3 Very Simple Phrases That Will Motivate Your Team Way More Than You Think by Carey Nieuwhof on This is the good stuff. If you lead a team, staff or volunteer, this is a must read and apply. […]

  2. Tim Snell on August 1, 2018 at 3:46 pm

    Sometimes it is the simple things. Right? Thanks for reminding us of that.

  3. Vanessa Comninos on August 1, 2018 at 1:23 am

    You guys rock! I don’t know what I’d do without you…

  4. oladipo pariola on July 31, 2018 at 3:12 am

    This is my personal leadership philosophy “people dont care how much you know,till they know how much you care”

  5. Mark Nelson on July 30, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    “I trust your decision on this.”

  6. Anthony Delaney on July 30, 2018 at 11:29 am

    What’s on your mind?

  7. Rev. Carole Martignacco on July 30, 2018 at 10:27 am

    What do you need from me to support you in this?

  8. Bob Phillips on July 30, 2018 at 9:24 am

    “Anything I can do to help you this week?”

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