6 Ways Great Leaders Build Motivation In Their People


Personal motivation is generally derived from two main sources:

  • Internal satisfaction (intrinsic motivation, as in achieving a personal goal)
  • External recognition (extrinsic motivation, as in receiving praise and monetary benefit.)

The question is, which is more potent?

Providing avenues for external recognition might work as a motivation strategy in the short-term, but there is a limit to it.

Employee awards and bonuses might work to drive performance and provide recognition in a tangible sense–until a more financially promising offer from another company comes along.


Alternatively, focusing on building self-motivation in employees requires a much more hands-on leadership approach and a little more time to reap the rewards.

In the long-term though, it’s the self-motivated employees who tend to outperform everyone else since they’re always searching for ways to outdo themselves every day.


Equip yourself with the right tools to address employee motivation and other performance issues: sign up for SSA Academy’s WSQ course on solving problems and making decisions at managerial level!

Here’s a look at 6 different ways that the best leaders build their people’s self-motivation to achieve .consistent high performance in the long-term.


1. Clearly defined personal & team goals


Every achievement begins with a clearly defined vision of a particular desired outcome. Having achievable, time-specific, personal and team KPIs that are visible to everyone is the minimum required to enable employees to know exactly what they should aim for.


Beyond that, leaders should have a sufficiently good grasp of what motivates each and every employee. Different people are driven by different things, and the best leaders make sure to set aside time and effort to sit down with their employees and ask:

  • What are their short-term and long-term career goals?
  • What’s their primary source of motivation? Family? Position? Honing their skills?
  • How do they visualise their personal success in the company?

Knowing all of these things helps leaders tailor their talent development and motivation strategies to each individual, cultivating maximal long-term personal growth.


2. Building confidence


Those who are more self-confident generally feel less afraid of failure and are secure enough in their own abilities to dare to keep raising the bar for themselves.

Contrary to popular belief, confidence is not an inborn trait or a personality quirk; it’s built up through accumulating mastery experiences and continuous self-improvement.




World-famous motivational speaker Mel Robbins, defines confidence not as a state of mind but as the decision to try. Each time you try something new, you build your competence, and the more you build your competence, the more self-confident you are. The cycle then repeats itself.

The takeaway here is that as a leader, the way to build your people’s self-confidence in the long-term (and thus their self-motivation) is to consistently provide opportunities for growth.

  • Entrust your people with incrementally more difficult tasks depending on their skill levels
  • Give them opportunities to capitalise on their individual strengths and buffer their personal weaknesses


3. Cultivating resilience


When you start giving your employees greater responsibilities and challenges to build up their competencies, failures are inevitable. Having the right attitude towards failure is everything, and it starts with the leader’s own attitude towards it.

Great leaders know that without failure, employees will not grow, and they won’t be able to unlock their full potential in giving their best performance at work.


When their people fail, their priority is to help them re-frame their perspectives on failure.

According to Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, there are two ways that people respond to failure:

  • Fixed mindset
    Failure tends to hit them harder because they believe their skills are static and unmoving
  • Growth mindset
    Failure motivates them to try harder since they see their skills as dynamic and open to constant improvement.

Leaders who successfully guide their people through failures are able to help them cultivate a growth mindset and ensure that they recognise that failure presents a greater opportunity to learn than success does.




4. Giving regular, specific feedback


One of the most crucial determinants of high performance is the frequency and quality of feedback received over time.

The key to giving good feedback is specificity, whether the feedback itself is positive or negative. Positive feedback is a huge reinforcer of motivation, but only when the praise given is tied to a particular observed behavior, attitude, or effort.

Simply saying “Good job on that presentation” does afford some employee recognition, but not as much as saying “Those visuals you used for the presentation were excellent! You really got the message across.”


Similarly, constructive criticism is necessary for growth, too. While conventional logic holds that giving negative feedback might demotivate someone, again, the key is specificity. Research has shown that when negative feedback is specific in detailing what needs to be improved and how, it can actually increase motivation to rise up to the occasion.

(See here for a more comprehensive guide on how to give constructive criticism effectively.)


5. Imbuing meaning into work


So many managers underestimate the importance of helping their people make the links between the work that they do and the benefit that’s accrued to the end user.


Understanding how their work contributes to the final product imbues employees with a sense of meaning. That itself can be a wellspring of employee motivation. Even something as simple as reading customer testimonials together can re-energise the team and facilitate re-commitment to pursuing excellence at work.


6. Providing training


Motivation is highly linked to self-efficacy: the belief in your own ability to achieve your goals. The better equipped you feel with the necessary skill sets, the greater your belief that you’ll be able to achieve a given goal.

Great leaders know that providing skills-specific training doesn’t only increase the chances of high performance; it also reinforces employee self-efficacy, thus feeding self-motivation.


The more targeted the training to an individual’s skill sets, the greater the positive effect on self-efficacy. Again, it’s about capitalising on each employee’s particular strength to provide growth opportunities and good career development. 

Sir Richard Branson said it best: “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t have to.”



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