Effective leaders know how to motivate employees by motivating team members to want to do what needs to be done by effectively using these three motivational factors.

  • Appreciation
  • Involvement
  • Awareness of personal situations

Many people are surprised to discover that money is not one of the top three.

Motivation in the workplace is often linked to money, and with good reason. Getting a paycheck is one of the main reasons people go to work in the first place. But as far as a reason, or motive, for completing tasks, it’s not very high on the list.

Even if you inherit new team members from another department and you know nothing about the people you’ll be leading, you can tailor these three factors so they will motivate the entire team.This is how leaders create sustainable, high performing teams.

Now, let’s take a look at the top motivational factor – appreciation.

The Most Powerful Motivator

Though it’s the most powerful of the three factors, appreciation must be used appropriately; that old saying about “too much of a good thing” definitely applies here. If an employee hears how great he is doing every day—no matter what quality of work he’s turning out—this appreciation becomes meaningless to him. It comes across as a fake managerial tactic to coerce him to get the work done.

Words of praise don’t work for everyone. In fact, they can turn some people off. The trick here is to know what each person will respond to, and make sure that they get it.

Appreciating People Correctly

Let’s go back to our bicycle analogy to see how, as a leader, you can utilize appreciation most effectively in correlation with communication priorities. If you are not familiar with the terms”back wheel” and “front wheel”, take a minute and read the Communication Skills at a Higher Level article.

  • Back wheel communicators need recognition to be very tangible, in the forms of accomplishments, tasks completed or goals achieved.
  • Front wheel communicators need recognition to be intangible—that is, touchy-feely, emotional and expressive.

Now, let’s add in communication pace:

  • Faster-paced communicators like public appreciation; they like to openly communicate with others about what they’ve accomplished.
  • Slower-paced communicators are motivated by private appreciation. This means communicating one-on-one or via e-mail—in a setting where accomplishments are not openly announced.

And finally, we can put priority and pace together to come up with a full picture of the different approaches you might take in order to most effectively reach your team members:

Faster-Paced, Back Wheel

Faster-paced, back wheel communicators are motivated by public, tangible appreciation. These team members tend to have large houses and luxury cars. Their offices commonly have the walls full of plaques and awards.

Publicly given, tangible signs of appreciation keeps them motivated because they like having something that they and others can see.

Faster-Paced, Front Wheel

Faster-paced, front wheel communicators are motivated by one-minute praise sessions. Intangible terms like “wonderful work,” “fabulous improvement” and “outstanding job” motivate these team members.


They are likely to not only show you their letters of praise from clients, but ask you to read them aloud, and to post them on the department bulletin board as well.

Slower-Paced, Front Wheel

Slower-paced, front wheel communicators prefer their appreciation to be more private. To them, public praise is an instant turn off. Meet with these team members one-on-one to
communicate with them, and use phrases such as “the team” and “the contributions your team has made.”

If time does not allow a personal meeting, leave a card or sticky note on their desk to acknowledge their efforts. They’ll save them and when they need a burst of energy, pull them out and re-read them.

Slower-Paced, Back Wheel

Slower-paced, back wheel communicators are motivated by GOMB: Get off my back. “Employee appreciation days” are like punishment to them; you’ll rarely see them at a company picnic unless attendance is mandatory. These employees say, “Don’t tell me I’m wonderful. Just let me do my job.”

Giving them responsibility in conjunction with authority creates a high level of motivation; this form of recognition communicates that you trust their expertise.

Take a minute after reading this information and think about how many times you may have missed the mark because you demotivated someone instead of motivating them. This insight on your part can make a difference starting today.

By tailoring your approach to appreciation according to an individual’s communication style, you will experience significant results in individual performance and overall productivity.

How Should Leaders Motivate?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Success course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.