Leadership - Try the six Es of motivation

Apply these principles and watch the hard work pay off for staff and students

To be a good school leader, you have to be a good motivator. Fail to motivate staff and you will quickly find barriers to everything you try to implement. Motivation skills are, therefore, a key tool.

Yet it is not as simple a tool as some may believe. There are two ways to motivate a person: you can motivate them away from something or you can motivate them towards something. An example of the former is punishing or ensuring negative consequences for certain behaviours, in much the same way as a child learns to leave a hot oven alone after being burned the first time they touch it. A more positive form of motivation is to reward behaviour with things that make people feel good about themselves, things that bring higher pay or provide rewarding experiences.

Positive motivation towards something has been shown to get the best and longest lasting results in the workplace, especially in schools. Yet leaders don't always know how to ensure that they are driving their staff in this way - negative motivation is often the easier route. Easier, of course, is rarely better, so here are the six Es of positive motivation to ensure that you are on the right track.

1. Example. Set an example for your staff members. Actions speak louder than words. When I led my first team, I was younger than several of the staff and was brought in from the outside. I knew I had to show my commitment by being the first one into the office and the last one to leave throughout my first year. Once they saw my commitment, they trusted me and were willing to make sacrifices for the team. If the leader won't do something, it is unlikely that the team will do it.

2. Expectations. People will step up to what is expected of them. Expect the best and you just might get it. When I am specific about what I want, I almost always receive what I asked for. If you are clear about the desired outcome, you will get it, sometimes beyond your expectations.

3. Education. Educate your educators. Teach people what they need to know to do their job well. Equip yourself with the newest teaching resources. Stay relevant. Offer tips that will increase classroom efficiency. Change things, do things differently. Ask yourself how you can be a giver of resources.

4. Encouragement. No one gets enough of it. US philosopher William James said it best: "The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated." How can you be a giver of attention? Follow the four laws of compassion: take time to listen, show appreciation, wake up to the needs of your staff and serve them. If someone does something well, acknowledge it.

5. Empower. Provide the resources needed to do the job effectively. Give people the opportunity to be their best. Few things are more demotivating than telling someone to do something but not empowering them or giving them the resources necessary to complete the task.

6. Extend trust. Done with discernment, extending trust to others proves to be a great motivator of innovation and productivity. Without trust, everything costs more, takes more time and creates more hassle. By extending trust to your staff, you will inspire them to be more efficient and effective.

A great example of this push for positive motivation has come from Nido Qubein, who took over as president of North Carolina's High Point University and decided to change the way that many colleges, if not most, view students. The inexpensive, sturdy wooden couches that are used in most US college residents' halls and lounges were replaced with high-grade leather ones. Older televisions were replaced with the newest flat- screens.

Most universities would worry that students would abuse the nicer amenities but Qubein said: "We have seen the opposite. If you respect people, they will step up. We made this campus absolutely beautiful and the students respect it, tell others about it and do better academically as a result."

"Trust is fundamental to all we do," he added.

The reward was more students, greater visibility, a better work environment, higher retention and productivity, and a place where pride abounds among students and staff. Qubein's decision shows what positive motivation can do. All leaders should be asking themselves how they can apply the six Es of motivation.

David Horsager is an award-winning speaker, bestselling author, producer and business strategist based in the US. He is the author of The Trust Edge: how top leaders gain faster results, deeper relationships, and a stronger bottom line.


More creative use of incentives is the way forward in the battle to retain staff, Stephen Hoare writes.


Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you