Episode: The Very Best Way to Motivate Your Team

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Michael Hyatt: The year is 1971. New York City is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. During this year, the crime index rises above 5,000. That’s 22 percent higher than the national average. Over 145,000 violent crimes are reported, one every nine minutes, and there are about five murders every single day. Twelve police officers will lose their lives in the line of duty.

Megan Hyatt Miller: In October, a little-known cop named Frank Serpico will make national headlines by exposing widespread corruption in the police department, so when another New York cop named George Johnson is called on to make an arrest in Times Square, he’s entering a highly charged environment. Crime is at an all-time high. Respect for the police is at an all-time low. Unbeknownst to Johnson, the suspect, who has been caught rifling through coats looking for money, is a wanted criminal with a history of violence against police officers.

Michael: Here’s where the story gets really interesting. Instead of calling for a police van to take the suspect in custody, Officer Johnson just asks the guy to walk back to the station with him. It’s 10 blocks away. The guy does it, even though he has to know he’s wanted on other charges. So they walk along, smoking cigarettes and chatting like old pals for maybe 15 minutes. When they get to the station, the man gets booked into custody. Other officers are amazed. They ask Johnson how he managed to get this guy to come along willingly. Johnson tells them it was simple: it was because he had treated the man with respect.

Megan: You’re probably not a cop, and of course, this story isn’t really about crime; it’s about leadership. It’s about what happens when you treat people the way you like to be treated. Most people don’t face the threat of physical violence at work, but as a leader, chances are good that you’ll face a hostile audience at some point.

Maybe you’re a new boss in a unit that has been in a free fall or maybe you’re leading a team that feels impossible to motivate. In those situations, it’s tempting to power up. You may not have a nightstick, but you do have authority. You may not be aware of it, but there’s a huge power differential between you and your employees. You can cancel vacations. You can demand overtime or withhold bonuses. You can even fire people.

Michael: When things get tough, it’s easy to reach for the power tools. Sure, there are times when a leader must hold people accountable to policies and the like, but at the end of the day, leaders want performance, not merely compliance. It can be tempting to use fear as a motivator, but is that the best way to get results? What if there was a better way to inspire your team to top performance? What if believing the best about your team and acting on the best in them really is the best way to motivate them?

Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael:  And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence. In this episode, I’ll show you how to inspire your team by calling out the best in them.

Megan: As leaders, we’re driven to get results. Based on decades of leadership in demanding situations, we’ll show you how to get the best out of your team without damaging morale. When we’re done, you’ll have three solid tools for generating long-term motivation in your team members.

Michael: Before we get started, if you’re a weekly subscriber to this podcast, great. Thank you so much. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do so in iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. Do you need some help? Just visit Thanks.

Megan: So, we’ve used a pretty heavy word in the opening, and that’s fear. To be honest, I don’t think most leaders see themselves as using authoritarian tactics or motivating by fear. Do you?

Michael: No, I don’t. Unfortunately, the ones who use it are often tragically self-unaware. But sometimes we can slip into fear-based leadership without even realizing it. For example, less experienced leaders sometimes lack confidence, and they feel the need to protect their authority, so they can get defensive or they can set up unhealthy power dynamics, like using threats to motivate people even without realizing they’re doing it, shutting down pushback…they don’t want any dissent, anybody contradicting them…or relying on positional authority, not earned respect.

Mature leaders, on the other hand, have learned to use gentle power, influence gain through building trust or the power of their vision or just creating alignment in the team or coaching, but being for the other person and not standing against the other person.

Secondly, a lot of leaders aren’t aware of the power differential with their subordinates. This is one that’s tough. I’ve been largely unaware of this for most of my career. I just consider us a team of colleagues, and we’re all in this together, we’re peers. The truth is when you are in a position to supervise others every one of your words weighs a thousand pounds. People parse it. They inject meaning into it. Even your hints about negative consequences have a resounding effect.

Thirdly, the more pressure we feel, the easier it is to power up. Maybe it’s our boss who’s putting the power on us or the board that’s putting the power on us, and we can translate that without even thinking about it. So, facial expressions or tone of voice.

Megan: This is a big one, by the way. It’s the nonverbal cues. It’s like they’re talking to our primitive brain, which is why they can conjure up fear.

Michael: I’ve been asked before, “Are you mad?” and I’ve said, “No.” I did this with an executive coach. I wasn’t mad. It’s just that somehow I didn’t get the message to my face, and I was just focused. You have to be self-aware. When you’re having a bad day, everybody knows it. I worked for a guy one time where before we would go into his office we would whisper to his assistant, “How’s the weather?” By that we meant, “Is he having a bad day or a good day? Because if it is a bad day, I don’t want to make this pitch for this proposal. I’ll come back another day.”

Also, when our superiors resort to “or else” language, we’re naturally going to pass it on. We’re going to feel the pinch. What happens is everybody starts tiptoeing around us or we start tiptoeing around our boss who’s acting like that. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells. Fourthly, I think we have to acknowledge this: fear works…up to a point.

Megan: Just not for very long.

Michael: Not for very long. The news media has figured out that fear is an incredible motivator. It keeps us glued to our televisions, engaged in what’s happening. Have you ever noticed, by the way, how often there’s breaking news or a breaking alert? It’s like, “Really?” I’m serious. On some channels, it’s two to three times an hour. “Breaking news.”

Megan: I think you could probably just go ahead and list on one hand the ones that don’t do that.

Michael: I know. Even the weather people do it now. Motivated by fear.

Megan: Yeah, if you live in the state of Tennessee, the threat of snowpocalypse is huge but never materializes.

Michael: A reporter friend of mine told me the producer would start the production meeting in the morning by saying, “Who’s got something scary?” They say, “If it bleeds, it leads.” If it’s a scary story, that’s what’s going to garner the headline. People do respond to fear, at least in the short term.

Megan: The problem is that, as a leader, you’re never going to get people’s creative thinking, their innovation, or their best contribution if they’re also scared, because those are two totally different parts of your brain, and you can’t be in both at the same time. There’s some interesting research on this point. Researchers have identified the power paradox, which means people in power tend to have a decreased sense of empathy toward others. That’s a cautionary bit of information.

One of the reasons for this is actually neurological. We all have innate brain wiring that makes us feel compassion toward others, but feeling stress, anxiety, anger, and fear degrade the brain’s ability to feel empathy. I think it stands to reason if you’re a leader you’re probably feeling those feelings more often, so this is a higher risk for you.

So if you feel stressed out, especially for an extended period of time, you can tend to be less compassionate, which is something we need to be really on guard for. It’s part of the reason rejuvenation as a leader is so important, because if you’re burned out, that’s going to be a ripple effect with your team that is really problematic.

Michael: It’s a good reminder again that our leadership is contagious. When we’re manifesting more of a positive spirit and a can-do attitude, that can be contagious, but when we’re in fear or survival, that can also be contagious. In fact, I would say it’s even worse than that. People are going to get the disease worse than we have it. It gets amplified as it moves down.

Megan: It’s that amplification.

Michael: Respect is a far better motivator than fear. Four reasons here quickly. First, fear produces behavioral compliance, but it degrades self-motivation. In other words, it moves the motivation from something internal to something external. A study of rats showed that the fear of pain is very useful in introducing behavioral change, because rats will do almost anything to avoid electric shock. By the way, people will too.

But a study of university students showed that when teachers used threats or fear of failing as a motivating tactic it eroded their self-motivation and, as a result, they actually performed worse on tests. People had less of a sense of agency, less confidence, and it influenced their behavior. Secondly, internal motivations are always stronger than external ones.

Megan: We know this from our goal-setting research.

Michael: We do, and it’s included in Your Best Year Ever and the course and everything else. Interestingly, researchers found that fear motivation works best on people with lower self-esteem. They’re afraid to fail. In other words, they’re easier to manipulate, which is a scary thing if you’re in a position of leadership. You never want to resort to manipulation. People with a higher sense of self-worth were more motivated by goal achievement, which is what you want if you’re leading an organization.

Thirdly, respect is consistently shown to be the most effective motivator. For example, a study of health-care workers in developing countries showed they didn’t always do a great job because they were unmotivated. Interestingly, social status was their top motivator. When they felt valued and respected by the community for the work they did, guess what: they performed better.

Fourthly, workplaces with a positive culture are healthy, literally. According to Harvard Business Review, health care expenditures at high-pressure companies are nearly 50 percent greater than at other organizations. Not really surprising. In a study of over 3,000 employees, results showed a strong link between leadership behavior and heart disease. So, a bad boss can actually kill you.

Megan: Hello.

Michael: Okay. The real question is…Do I want short-term results at any cost or do I want to build a team that will perform well for the long haul?

Megan: Most of us don’t want to be perceived as scary bosses, but it’s easy to slip into using power tactics. The research is clear that respect is a far better long-term motivator than fear. So, we’ve identified three tools for creating long-term motivation in your team. Dad, what’s the first one?

Michael: The first one is simple courtesy. Just treat other people as you’d like to be treated. I mean, did your mom tell you this?

Megan: It’s something we’ve kind of lost, though, in our culture.

Michael: We have definitely lost that, because our culture has become more uncivil and more coarse. Some examples of this, in terms of behaving with consideration for others, would be tact, punctuality, listening (you know, not talking over the top of people), eye contact, introducing others, like when you walk into a room and don’t know the people, taking the initiative to introduce yourself. This is treating others with respect in casual ways, but this shows respect to others. It says, “I acknowledge your value, and I won’t ignore you. I see you.”

Megan: We can’t underestimate these small, often nonverbal cues we’re giving to people, because if we’re consistently late, if we don’t keep confidences, if we don’t listen well and we talk over the top of people, if we don’t make eye contact, all of these kinds of things, it really communicates a level of disrespect for people that does not go unnoticed.

Michael: The opposite of this is rudeness, which is totally self-centered. We’re focused on ourselves. We’re lost in our own world, caught up in our head. We’re not paying attention to the people who are around us. We may be short with people. If you want to witness this full on, just go to an airport and be somewhere where a flight just got canceled.

Megan: Yeah, that brings out the worst in people.

Michael: Oh, it brings out the worst in people. Sometimes I just sit there going, “Oh my gosh. What is it about your life that makes you so crazy that the flight was canceled?” I hate that as much as the next guy, but it’s not the end of the world. You’re not going to remember it a week from now. There may be some crazy circumstances where that’s the case, but for people to go nuts, go nuclear in a situation like that…

Here’s where the motivation side of this works. When you treat the person who’s trying to help you find another airplane with respect, dignity, kindness, and grace, then all of a sudden you stand in such stark contrast to everybody else that they’re more than happy to help you. I’ve had that happen so many times. When people feel respected, they’re more collaborative. They’re more energetic. They’re more productive.

Megan: Interestingly, according to Harvard Business Review, half of employees don’t feel respected by their boss. Can you believe that?

Michael: That’s tragic.

Megan: Isn’t that tragic? But when employees do feel respected by their leaders, the payoff is huge. First of all, they reported 56 percent better health and well-being, 89 percent greater enjoyment and satisfaction with their jobs, and 92 percent greater focus, and they had greatly increased levels of meaning and significance. What we know about employee retention would tell us that’s very important.

Michael: Yeah, it is. I want to say a special word about incivility, because I think something has happened in our culture. I started witnessing this in the 2008 election, but I think it has gotten progressively worse, and it’s worse on both sides. It’s not like you can just point to one political party. It’s kind of just the modus operandi for every party now and for everybody who’s on a news show. Even the news shows have deteriorated to the point where it’s just yelling, shouting, talking over the top of each other.

One of the things that I think is scary and one of the things we have to be careful of, as leaders, with regard to incivility is we can become like those we oppose. Social media has made this worse. I frequently see and you probably frequently see, too, people resorting to dehumanizing language to characterize somebody else who is using dehumanizing language, and they become guilty of the very same thing they’re accusing the other party of being. Somebody has to break the cycle.

One of the best books I read this last year was a book on nonviolent communication and just the necessity of taking the high road and not responding in kind when somebody insults us, when somebody is disrespectful, but trying to put the pause between that action and our response and taking the higher ground and responding with grace.

Megan: Well, if we’re going to change the chemistry or the charge of the situation, we have to do something differently in a positive way. We can’t just respond in kind or it won’t get any better.

Michael: That’s what happens on social media so often in these debates that go on. Each side is yelling, nobody is listening, and nobody is going to change their behavior on the other side of the argument, not until somebody finally listens and the other side feels heard.

Megan: That’s why we, as leaders, have to set the tone in our own companies. That’s really critical. Okay, Dad. I have a question for you. What is your biggest pet peeve regarding courtesy in the workplace?

Michael: I don’t know why this is my pet peeve, but it is. It’s when people talk over the top of each other. You’re trying to have a discussion, and some people get excited, and instead of actually listening or waiting for the other person to finish, they talk right over the top of them. I’ve been guilty of this too, so it’s not like I have a clean slate on this. The other thing that happens sometimes is somebody is thinking of what they’re going to say and not actually listening to what the other person is saying. I just think it’s rude. What about you? Do you have one?

Megan: I’m kind of with you on that. First of all, I hate people talking over other people, but I would say the eye contact thing is big. This is kind of a little version of that, which is people being distracted in meetings, not being present, not making eye contact, doing other work while they’re supposed to be in conversation with you. They’re on their phone or on their computer, that kind of stuff. First of all, it’s tempting for all of us, because we always have all kinds of things going on while we’re in a meeting, but it communicates that someone else is more important than the person you’re with, and I think that’s, unintentionally, in most cases, very rude.

Michael: I remember reading years ago that John Kennedy, the president, had this amazing ability to make you feel like you were the only person in the room, that he had this eye contact. Bill Clinton also had that, and there probably have been a lot of other presidents that had it too. That’s a real gift and something that doesn’t cost leaders anything, and something they can employ more often is to really look at people so that people feel seen. There’s a connection that happens in that that builds trust. It’s a really practical thing. I’m not talking about using it to manipulate people, but using it to just be genuine in seeing that other person.

Megan: I think that’s kind of what we’re talking about here with respect. “I see you, and you matter.”

Michael: Before we move on, let’s talk about the new webinar we have in the works. It’s called “The Busy Person’s Guide to Achieving More Without Feeling Overwhelmed.” You’re probably scratching your head at that title. You don’t know if it’s possible to get more done without pushing yourself to the limit. You’re probably working on weekends just to get ahead of your work or you’re probably working overtime every day because you can’t seem to finish those big revenue-producing, time-intensive projects.

You’re piling on more work because you feel that overwhelm and achievement go hand in hand. Well, in this free webinar, I break down this myth. In fact, I show you five proven methods to get ahead of your work without sacrificing free time. I’ll be holding this webinar on a number of different dates and times this week and next. These webinars will fill up past, so if you want to reserve your seat for this special teaching, then sign up today at As always, this webinar is free.

Megan: So, the first tool for creating long-term motivation is a little common courtesy, and that goes a long way in making your team feel valued. What’s the second tool?

Michael: The second tool is candor. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Candor, if we define it broadly, is being open and honest in our speech and our conduct. For example, here’s what it’s not. It’s not flattering people, because that’s not candor (it’s a subtle form of manipulation, sometimes not so subtle). It’s not withholding information. We’ve all known people like that, especially in the corporate world, who are just very much keeping their facts and their contacts and everything else close to their vest. It’s not playing favorites, not concealing your true intentions.

As a leader, it doesn’t mean you have to tell everything you know, but what you do say has to be true. My rule on this is I don’t want to round up numbers to create an impression or make things appear better than they are. I think it’s easy to do that, not only by what you say but by what you leave out if you’re not careful.

Megan: People will catch you. If you’re a leader, your team knows the truth, and they know if there’s a gap between what you said and the truth. Nothing will create cynicism like that.

Michael: Isn’t it interesting that so many leaders today try to get away with stuff like that?

Megan: Oh my gosh. You just want to smack them upside the head.

Michael: I just go, “Really? How do you think you’re getting away with this?”

Megan: It’s so true.

Michael: There are records. People are going to speak out.

Megan: The other part of this, though, when we’re talking about candor is the willingness to speak into the lives or the performance of your team members. Depending on your personality, this can be tough for you as a leader. Maybe you like to avoid conflict or you’re kind of uncertain or you lack confidence in these situations, but if your people are going to grow, you have to be candid with them about their performance. You have to be willing to give them constructive feedback in, obviously, a non-abusive way (constructive is the operative word there), but it’s critical that you tell them if something is not going well.

You don’t want to wait for HR to handle it or you don’t want to hide out until their annual review. You want to deal with things in real time so they have the opportunity to improve, which creates an environment of trust. You’ve said to me before when you do that you’re really standing for the best of that person, which I know we’re going to talk about more in a minute. You’re assuming that they can handle it, that they’re not weak.

Michael: That’s the key. I think there’s sort of this underlying assumption when we’re dealing with people, and the reason we don’t have candor is we think, “Well, they can’t handle this. They can’t handle the truth. I can’t really speak the truth. They’re fragile. They’re going to fall apart.”

Megan: “It’s my job as a leader to protect them.”

Michael: It’s sort of a backward lack of respect. What I want to be able to say is, “I respect you enough that you’re able to handle this, so I’m going to just tell you the truth.”

Megan: You can communicate that with dignity and respect and honor, but it’s important to be direct.

Michael: I’ll tell you why it’s important. I’ve often said this. The shortest distance between where you are and where you want to be is the truth. The faster you can get to the truth… If it’s somebody’s performance, if it’s the company’s performance, whatever it is, the more you can be candid and truthful about that, the sooner people will be enrolled to help correct the problem.

Megan: All right. The first tool in creating long-term motivation with your team is courtesy. The second tool is candor. That brings us to the third tool.

Michael: The third tool is challenge. It’s a little bit like candor in that the reason we don’t challenge people is we believe they can’t handle it or maybe we assume they’re performing at their best. I heard a story years ago about Dr. Henry Kissinger, who was kind of known to have high standards and be exacting. He had a speechwriter who was working with him, and the speechwriter prepared a speech. He had worked on it really hard because he knew this was important and he knew Dr. Kissinger was so exacting.

He submitted the speech to him, and the next day he gets the speech back with a handwritten note on it that said, “I think you can do better.” Well, he was mortified when he got that. He thought, “Whoa. Am I about to be fired? What’s going to happen here?” He rolled up his sleeves and went back to work on this speech, completely retooled it, added a bunch of research, some more compelling stories. Great job. He turned it in to Kissinger, and the next day he gets a note back from Kissinger that says, “I still think you can do better.”

Megan: Wow, that’s gutsy.

Michael: Now the guy is thinking, “What more can I do?” He’s working super hard on this speech. Again, he retools it, takes it to the next level, and he sends a note with the speech to Dr. Kissinger and says, “Dr. Kissinger, I sure hope this is acceptable, because honestly, this is the very, very best I can do. I cannot do better than this.” Dr. Kissinger sent a note back and said, “Good. This time I’ll read it.”

Megan: Wow. Man, that takes guts. I’m thinking he has done that before.

Michael: I think he has too. I don’t even know if that story is true, and it’s obviously an extreme example of challenging people. A good example of this, if you think back about the teachers you remember… I had a couple dozen grade school, junior high, and high school teachers. I really can’t remember many of their names, but the one name I remember is Mr. Colthorpe, who was my English teacher, because he had, it seemed at the time, unbelievably high standards. He expected us to memorize in Middle English this part of Chaucer.

Megan: Do you know it?

Michael: I do, but I’m not going to do it. He was so tough on us, but he held us accountable, and he called us to a higher standard. When I think back through the bosses I worked through, there were some who were just jerks. Those didn’t motivate me at all, but the ones who believed I could do better… I can think back of coaches who worked with me who said, “You know what? You can do better. You’re selling yourself short.” I can think of a speech coach in particular who did that. Again, I think by challenging people we communicate a subtle sort of respect that says, subliminally, “You’re capable.”

Megan: I think it’s even more than respect. I think it’s belief.

Michael: That’s a fair point.

Megan: I think what you’re doing in that moment is you’re communicating that you see something in them that they don’t see in themselves, and you wouldn’t ask them to do it if you didn’t think they could.

Michael: The opposite of this and where it gets disrespectful is when we don’t delegate because we think they can’t do it. We don’t give our executive assistant that task because we think, “Oh, if I want to get it done right I have to do it myself.” That’s disrespectful. That person will never rise to the challenge until they’re given the opportunity. I want to say that again. They will never rise to the challenge until they’re given the opportunity.

Your job as a leader is to give them the opportunity and give them the opportunity to rise to the challenge. Then you can coach to them. What I’ve discovered (we’ve seen this in our company like crazy) is that people do it better than we could have imagined it, because they have different capabilities, different giftings. They see things from a different point of view. Again, challenging people is a way to respect them and bring their performance up to the next level.

Megan: This is a place where, as a leader, it’s really important to be self-aware, because I think if you’re a leader who struggles with people-pleasing or something like that it may be difficult for you to create a situation that makes your team members or your direct reports uncomfortable, but discomfort is not the same as disrespect. When you challenge somebody, they will probably feel uncomfortable. You may feel uncomfortable, but that actually may be indicative that you’re on the right course and you’re actually for them and you’re helping them rather than just sort of creating an environment of comfort, which doesn’t produce results.

Michael: I’ve kind of done this with you, especially with regard to public speaking or financial management in the company. I’ve thrown you in the deep end on that kind of stuff. Why? Because I believe you’re capable. I respect you, and I believe, to your point… It’s more than respect; it’s a belief, and you’ve exceeded my expectations every time.

Megan: So far it’s going okay.

Michael: That’s right. So far so good.

Megan: Just to be practical for a second, if this is a new idea for you, this concept of challenging your team members, how could you practically integrate this into your leadership?

Michael: A couple of ways. One that’s simple is as a part of your annual review process. Ask yourself the question, “What could I challenge this person to do that they’re not now doing?” In other words, we talk about looking for opportunities for improvement, which is usually a euphemism for, “We’re going to focus on their weaknesses and hope we can tweak them up.” No, forget that. That’s rarely worth the effort. What you can do, though, is ask, “What are their strengths? What are their capabilities, and how could I provide for them an opportunity where they can express that and grow?”

Another thing is to look at your to-do list and consider the things that heretofore you never would have considered delegating and delegate those things, whether they’re preparing a report, preparing a speech, running a project, whatever it is. Forget the person’s title, but give them an opportunity to really shine and to take that on. Resource them, instruct them, coach them, give them whatever they need to succeed. Both of you will win in that kind of context. You’ll win because you get it off your to-do list, which is already too long. They’ll win because they have an opportunity to grow and develop and become more useful to your organization.

Megan: Today we’ve learned that the very best way to motivate your team is by believing the best about them. We’ve also shared three tools for creating long-term motivation, which are courtesy, candor, and challenge. As we bring it home today, I just want to remind you that, as a leader, you have great power in the lives of your team members. Use your power for good. Dad, do you have any final thoughts today?

Michael: Yeah, I do. Again, as a leader, I would encourage you to be more self-aware and ask yourself the question, “In the little things, am I showing respect?” You know, when we enter the office and the way we acknowledge people, the way we are attentive at meetings or taking notes or not taking notes or just looking people in the eyes. We talked about all of those things. But then on the bigger things of challenging people and delegating to people, just to think about respect and how we can communicate that to our team. The great thing about it is because our behavior is contagious, if we’re respectful, they’ll be respectful, and we’ll build a respectful culture.

Megan: As we close, I want to thank our sponsor LeaderBox. It provides automated personal development in a box. Check it out at If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, you can get the show notes and a full transcript online at

Michael: Thanks again for joining us on Lead to Win. If you enjoyed the program, I hope you’ll become a subscriber, if you haven’t already. It’s totally free. You can do it wherever you listen to podcasts or just visit

Megan: This program is copyrighted by Michael Hyatt & Company. All rights reserved. Our producer is Nick Jaworski.

Michael: Our writers are Joel Miller and Lawrence Wilson.

Megan: Our production manager is Mike Burns, and our production assistant is Aleshia Curry.

Michael: We invite you to join us next week when we’ll show you the best tools for team collaboration. Until then, lead to win.