The Single Best Way To Fully Motivate Your Team

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See if you recognize this.

There are some kinds of leaders (often in churches and not-for-profits) who are wonderful with people, but whose organizations don’t produce great results. Often there’s little accountability, a general drift, poor metrics and just a lack of overall excellence. But the leader’s a really nice person.

There are other leaders (often in rapidly growing churches and businesses) who are not so great with people, but there’s tight accountability, laser-like focus, clear results and tremendous progress.

You probably already recognize your own style in the above descriptions.

Maybe you just love people, but it’s just hard to see progress in your mission. Deadlines mean almost nothing. Most people show up for an event both under-prepared and unclear about what’s really going on. The quality of people’s work is mediocre at best, but most people just shrug it off anyway.

But at least you somewhat enjoy being together. Except there are no new people to join the party because the party just isn’t that great.

Or maybe you’re driven. Results are everywhere. All your graphs go up and to the right. You’re gaining a reputation for quality and excellence. Sharp thinkers and bright leaders are attracted to your organization. Unlike so many of your peers, you get it done. You’re crushing it.

But you’re also losing people. If you’re honest, you look back and there are casualties everywhere. Staff doesn’t stay that long. Volunteers give it a run and then step back. People can’t keep up with the pace. And everyone who stays is silently fearful and discouraged.

The question is: which style is better?

Leaders who care about people but not results?

Leaders who care about results but not people?

The answer?

Neither…and both.

In an ever-changing culture and workplace, the future belongs to leaders who value both results and relationships.

It’s been a long journey for me on this (I’m way more a results guy than a relationship guy when it comes to work), but I’ve learned some lessons along the way. While I don’t always get it right every day, I have seen in my own organizations and in others, that there’s a single best way to motivate your team: to value both relationship and results.

Here are three keys on how to do just that.

The future belongs to leaders who value both results and relationships. Click To Tweet

1. Get over your fear of the other side

If you look at what leaders who care about people are afraid of, and what leaders who care about results are afraid of, they often have a false (and opposite) fear.

Leaders who care about people don’t want to become soul-less taskmasters who crush others. Pastors and relationally-driven people are particularly guilty of this. They feel like the cardinal sin is accountability, and although they want progress, they can never seem to find it because no matter how much they seem to care about people, the dial doesn’t move.

Leaders who care more about results worry about the exact opposite: they fear that if they start to care about people, their growth will slow down. They’ll sacrifice results, and for whatever reason (usually an unhealthy one), that terrifies them.

Here’s the truth.

There are no meaningful results without people. And people feel far more alive when they’re moving together toward results.

In the same way, a lack of care is tremendously demotivating and unfulfilling, a lack of progress is tremendously demotivating and unfulfilling.

The takeaway? Get over your fear. It’s false.

There are no meaningful results without people. And people feel far more alive when they're moving together toward results. Click To Tweet

2. Be easy on the person, tough on the issue

Whatever your natural approach to leadership, it’s clear that there’s a tension between what you should go easy on, and what you should be tough about.

Relationally driven leaders will be easy on the person and easy on the issue, letting standards slip, making excuses and allowing shoddy work to continue.

Results driven leaders will be tough on the issue and tough on the person, ensuring progress on the mission but creating low morale and/or high turnover.

So what approach is better?

Try this: be easy on the person and tough on the issue.

Being hard on a person rarely helps. Secret: while you may be working with the occasional narcissist, as I outline in detail here, most people are actually quite insecure. Your harsh words will hurt people enough that they can barely recover well enough to tackle the issue.

You may not think you’re being harsh, but as Larry Osborne says, when it comes to senior leaders, the larger your organization gets, the more your whisper becomes a shout.

And even if your team does recover and meet their goals (which many will), fear is a terrible motivator. You bring out far less in people when they’re motivated by fear than when they’re motivated by encouragement.

And when you’re hard on people, people feel judged. Judgment is a terrible motivator. Very few people get judged into long-term change. Many people get loved into it.

Judgment is a terrible motivator. Very few people get judged into long-term change. Many people get loved into it. Click To Tweet

I had to learn this over time, but now every time I go into a situation where I have to address a tough issue, I try to remember to love the person and tackle the issue.

So how does that happen?

First, start by affirming what’s good about them, and then move alongside them to tackle the issue.

Think about it: as frustrated as you may be with your team member, you hired them or you recruited them. Unless you routinely hire idiots, there is something good in the person you’ve recruited. Look for it. Build on it.

A second way to do it is to affirm their intention. Unless you have clear evidence to the contrary, assume good motives, as in Hey, I see what you’re trying to do here. I love that. I’m just not sure it’s getting either of us what we hoped for. Can we talk about it?”

Finally, be clear about what’s missing. A general rage or frustration rarely produces great results. Saying ‘everything’ is wrong helps no one.

As a team member once (very helpfully) said to me: make sure that after a conversation with you people leave with their dignity.

So so true.

If you want to motivate your team and get results, be easy on the person and tough on the issue. Click To Tweet

3. Use this formula in every one-on-one meeting

Dealing with a crisis or issue is one thing, but how do you nurture results and relationships on an ongoing basis?


In every one on one meeting you have (this could also work in a very small team meeting as well), begin this way: ask people how they’re doing before you ask them what they’re doing (thanks to Jeff Henderson for this language).

The results-oriented people will naturally only focus on asking people what they’re doing.

The relationally oriented leaders will naturally only ask people how they’re doing.

Smart leaders do both.

Starting by asking how someone is doing is wise because it begins the relationship on a personal level. In some corporate cultures, it may seem weird to start that way because it sounds too personal.

But think about, when you hire someone, you hire the whole person. if things aren’t going well at home, that spills into work. If someone’s not sleeping well at night, it impacts their performance. If they’re struggling with a difficult child, an addiction or a challenge they can’t seem to solve, that’s going to show up in how they do their job.

While you can’t solve their problem for them, knowing you care about them helps people care more about your mission. And it makes them ultimately more loyal to your organization. People who know that you care will care more about you and your organization.

People who know that you care will care more about you and your organization. Click To Tweet

The other thing this does (and this is huge), is having this as part of the regular dialogue really helps team members sort out what issues are work issues and which issues are life issues. There’s a huge bias in our culture toward blaming everything on work. Sometimes work is to blame, but you’d be surprised how often it’s not.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down with a team member and said, “Thanks for sharing that with me. Is there anything we can do here at work to help. I’m sorry you’re so overwhelmed” only to have them say “You know, I appreciate that, but actually this has nothing to do with work. This has to do with my life. But thank you for caring.”

Do you know how much tension that exchange gets rid of right there for everyone? And you didn’t have to say “Hey man, that’s a life issue, not a work issue.” They named it for themselves.

So that’s for results people. What about the people-driven leaders?

Well, start your meetings with how people are doing, but don’t camp out there forever.

Move on after a few minutes and start talking about work, goals, metrics, accountability.

Ask questions like “Well in light of all this, what can we expect next month in terms of delivering on X?” Or “Is there anything you need from me or from us to accomplish Y? We’re here to support you and help you win.” And then follow through and do it.

Keep good notes, and then come back to what you said you were going to track in the next meeting and pick up the conversation.

You’ll be amazed at what you learn. Example: I remember a staff member told me once that it was taking 8 hours to upload his work online because we gave him a slow computer. I had no idea. We ordered a computer that day, and it cut his processing time down to two hours instead of eight for massive files. Do you have any idea how quickly that 5K for a new high-end computer paid back? Plus, he loved having great gear to work with. Churches and not-for-profits cheap out on stuff like this way too often.

Remember, the future belongs to leaders who value both results and relationships.

If you really want to value relationships and results, ask people how they're doing before you ask them what they're doing. Click To Tweet

Increase Giving and Fully Fund Your Mission—Regardless of Where You're at Now.

When it comes to money conversations with your church, my guess is that you want the outcome (margin in your budget and a generous congregation) without the process (having to raise funds and talk about it).

The Art of Building a Generous Congregation is a proven method for increasing giving, creating a culture of generosity, and building financial margin at your church... without the stress and awkwardness.

Even if you don’t feel comfortable talking about money right now.
Even if you’ve never seen your congregation fully engage with that kind of conversation.
Even if you’ve tried other methods without success.

And yes, especially, if you could make a bigger difference by increasing your budget by 20%, 30%, or even 40%.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.