Enterprising Leaders have incessantly been engrossed in the bearing of morale on results throughout the ages, but the recent economic degeneration has unreservedly smashed businesses over the skull creating an upshot of gut-punched workers.  Having survived copious rounds of layoffs, unnerving uncertainty for their futures, relentless reactive upheaving change, and fearful atmospheres of overwrought anxiety, many employees are fighting off a recessionary post traumatic exhaustion.  We are experiencing soars in

productivity from a workforce that has been coerced to toil protracted arduous hours for less compensation.  This phantom productivity gain has been compelled by survival instincts rather than tangible productivity improvements generated through process improvement, technology application, six sigma strategies, and the like.   The Gallup Management Journal’s semi-annual Employee Engagement Index puts the current percentage of truly “engaged” employees at 29 percent. A slim majority, 54 percent, falls into the “not engaged” category, while 17 percent of employees are “actively disengaged.”  Just as the workforce is anticipating a respite, Leaders are contriving to exploit the productivity upsurge to gain a jump on the impending economic recovery.  A keen Street Smart Leader will possess the facility to elevate morale throughout this opportunistic fiscal transition, re-engage his team, and leap beyond his competition.

Several years ago I was being interviewed by a mid-range “human-resourcer” for a national executive leadership position I was very intrigued in.  As we progressed through his predictable tedious entreaties, I endeavored to generously respond with the mundane conventional ripostes that would amply check off his questionnaire and propel me forward in their process.  Everything was proceeding smartly and then he hit me with it.  “How do you motivate people?”  As my brain filtered through the imaginable index-card retorts I had stored from the management books, my gut tightened and sent a repulsing shot back to my throat causing me to choke on the “canned” answer.  There I was, a moment of truth.  My brain pushed headstrong with an internal argument of, “Just answer the question and move on.  What are you doing?”  But my guts countered for a grasp of authenticity and challenged, “You are not going to cave-in on this one too, are you?”  With my integrity intact, I innately postponed my quest for employment as I leaned in, looked the neophyte straight in the eye and authoritatively responded, “I do not believe you can motivate others.  People must be motivated for their own reasons.  Without understanding this, you are only manipulating them”.  As he writhed to recoup his speech along with the decision of whether to not drop his pen or not drop his clipboard, I knew my unconventional position had closed the interview.

The first step in having a motivated A-Team is to hire motivated people.  Although this concept may appear sophomoric at first, take a moment and reflect on how many unmotivated people you know.  Motivation is not a given that can be taken for granted.  Motivation is a value which some people possess and act upon and some do not.  As with all values, you cannot thrust motivation upon an individual through mandate.  No matter how strong of a manager you believe yourself to be, the best you can accomplish with an un-motivated player is short-term manipulation.  Constantly manipulating your employees is a trying and tiring methodology for the long run.  Unmotivated workers must be culled from the workforce if there is to be a chance for good morale to succeed.

Although you cannot motivate someone else, you can be diligent in understanding what motivates each motivated member of your team and then support their motivation with an enriched environment for it to thrive.  Thriving motivation equals exceptional morale.  To understand what goes into a moral supporting environment, let us look to the studies of psychologist Frederick Herzberg, who in 1959 published his “Dual Structure Theory”.   Herzberg rejected the prevalent manipulation methodology of “stick and carrot” (which he dubbed KITA for “kick in the ass”) and developed two lists: Motivator Factors and Hygiene Factors.  He believed that Motivator Factors lead to satisfaction and Hygiene Factors lead to dissatisfaction.   He proposed that Motivator and Hygiene Factors operate independently of each other based on their psychological impact and therefore are not opposites of each other.  So the lack of satisfaction does not equal dissatisfaction, it equals “no” satisfaction.

Herzberg’s theory can be summarized as follows:

The understanding of Herzberg’s Theory has been widely adopted and expanded upon.  Managers everywhere have committed to fulfill these necessities with an assortment of policies, programs, and initiatives.   Rages of “new age” thinking to promote cultures of “feeling good” have saturated the workplace in the hope of fashioning “good morale”.  Here is a short list of ill-fated ideas I plucked from the internet for improving morale:

  • Encourage employees to discuss their problems
  • Protect employees from unfair criticism
  • Develop salary and review guidelines
  • Make training available
  • Encourage employees to rotate jobs
  • Implement rewards to show appreciation
  • Use team building games

This partial list could go on with multitudes of formulas for attempting to make people “feel better”.  The problem with them is that their successes are short lived at best and quickly revert back to “carrot and stick” mentalities.   Herzberg contends management not only must provide hygiene factors to avoid employee dissatisfaction, but also must provide factors intrinsic to the work itself in order for employees to be satisfied with their jobs.  Accomplishing all of this with any half dozen initiatives is an impossibility.  Focusing on individual programs to increase morale is a short-lived waste of time.  A Leader must determine how to raise morale with a complete comprehensive approach to Herzberg’s Theory which will deliver long-lasting and far-reaching impacts for his team.

A Leader acknowledges the absolute answer to achieving incomparable morale through a team of motivated people comes down to one unconquerable action –WINNING!

This lesson was brought home last weekend when my wife and I were lunching at a deli-counter and she leaned over to me and asked what kind of ring the gentleman next to her was wearing.  I recognized it, but encouraged her to ask him.  As she inquired, the seventy-something year old man, who had been fixated on the behind the counter action, softly left his trance and proceeded to take off his Superbowl Ring for my wife to adorn.  As she slipped the humongous golden hoop onto her slender finger, Pro George Timberlake

began to tell us of his days as a Green Bay Packer in the mid-1950s.  He became animated and enthusiastic as he shared his tales of the pre-facemask, pre-Lombardi, and pre-money days of football.  I noticed him straighten up slightly as he pointed out how he played both offense and defense in those days, never coming off of the field.  A light beamed from him as he chronicled his contribution to the genesis of the National Football League and the bestowment years later of his honorary ring.  As his story extended and he described his trade to the Washington Redskins, his shoulders began to faintly slump again.  He became more solemn and dismayed as he spoke of departing football to “get a real job”.  Expecting to hear of a horrific injury, I asked him why he left the game.  With his head sagging a bit and his eyes downcast he slowly returned the prized ring to his finger and explained, “…the Redskins could not win a game and after a few years of continuously losing, the situation was just miserable.”  So he left what most would consider the dream-job of a lifetime.

Show me any winning team and I will show you exceptional morale.  Reflect back on those champagne-flying locker room celebrations you have witnessed after championships … that is what morale looks like and feels like.  Good morale is simply about winning and there is no substitute for it.  It has been said, “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser”.  I will also show you a demoralized person.

Your responsibility as a Leader is to win!  Motivated people give everything they have with the expectation that they will win.  If they don’t, they will leave.  Remember, you need to begin with motivated people.  But once you have them, you must win with them.  Winning is contagious and builds a self-realizing momentum which creates successive wins.  Winning is not an easy goals to accomplish.  It takes intelligence, strategy, goals, planning, execution…but most of all, it takes winners.

Tough Leaders face the contest of re-energizing their teams during these threatening transitional times.  As excited as you may be to hear of an economic recovery, it sounds like more work and stress to your employees.  You must not wait for the “win” if you are to leap ahead of your competition at this key moment.  Begin winning now!  Start acting like a winner; start talking like a winner; find ways every day to make your team feel like winners.  Winning is as much a philosophy as it is an action.  A Street Smart Leader accepts he cannot be Herzberg’s everything to everyone, but he knows deep down that if he can take a motivated team of people and win, exceptional morale will materialize and everyone will want to stay on the field and keep playing at their best!


I have witnessed some of the best and brightest MBAs crash and burn, like Icarus with his wings of wax,never to again ascend.  They are extraordinarily smart individuals.  They are amazingly articulate.  And damn if they do not know the answers to all matters. These confident and glassy contenders are able to decipher complex business conundrums and possess the facility to deliver sophisticated presentations to corroborate their campaign.  These managers are extremely proficient, cogent, brainy businesspeople. But repeatedly they take off towards the brightness of their ideas only to tumble back to failure.  What is it about their “book smarts” that thwarts their flight from soaring with their strategies?   Street Smart Leaders embrace an imperative truism, the sine qua non: Business is easy – People are hard.

All of the acumen in the world falls short if one does not understand the enigmatic component created once “people” are introduced into the equation.  There are a few exceptional careers where an individual’s solitary efforts are developed in a bubble to produce results.  But in the overwhelming majority of situations, people are necessary if we are to materialize concepts into actions.

So often, I see competent managers charged with a task fail to coalesce their team of people.  They self-sabotage their own brilliance and watch their plan plummet from the sky.  They focus on the plan, disregarding the importance of connecting their strategy to their people.  This snubbing of the human component creates an undercurrent of defiance leading to an imperceptible revolution.  The insurgency occurs because the manager has included “people” as one of the “things” in his plan.  For a Leader to implement a strategy or idea, the Leader must grasp he is asking “people to change”.  His plan’s success is reliant on his ability to mobilize human beings into action and construct change.

People are vital to accomplishing your goals.  They are diverse and complicated.  To be an effective Leader you must focus a significant part of your studies on the behavioral sciences.  What are the motivations of people?  The application of behavioral concepts to real world situations crafts a “business psychology” of people at the “street level”.  The more proficient you are at understanding the personal motivation of each member of your team, the better change agent you will become.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

As a Leader it is your obligation to make change happen.  You are dealing with change issues involving broken and ineffective practices or you are moving your team in a new direction towards a competitive advantage.  Developing the strategies and plans for your program are characteristically a straight forward process.  You can ordinarily figure out what you need to do in business.  Getting people to embrace and carry out your plans is where the Leadership Challenge lies.  So let’s start with a fundamental of business psychology that you need to understand if you are going be successful with moving people to Change.

Fundamental Number One:  People love their misery.  Yes I’ll say that again, people love their misery.  I’m amazed at how often I see people in miserable conditions.  Nothing is going their way, they are frustrated to the extreme and at the brink of emotional (sometimes physical and deadly) breakdowns and yet when you approach them and start to discuss the idea of a change taking place, they seize their misery and clutch it tight to their guts refusing to release it.  What could be so petrifying about change?  They are unconsciously terrified to move from something they know so well, to something having an ambiguous result.  For most human beings this is a very scary proposition.  For them to let go of their misery they must trust that you, as their Leader, have a better place to go.  Many of them have been disappointed throughout their entire careers and they will only let go of the misery when they have no other choice.  A good leader knows how to inspire trust in the plan and emancipate the misery.

As time passes, with some attention to the subject of business psychology, you will get an overall general feel of what you need do as a manager to move people one way or the other.  But if you truly want to excel with the “people” factor of business, it is necessary to get involved with the people.  This means getting down to an individual level with the people on your team and taking the time to think about who they are and what makes them tick.  What makes them happy or excited and when are they skeptical and resistant?   You do not need to have a psychology degree to understand the elementary drivers of an individual’s inspiration.  It is a matter of dedicating generous time and paying close attention to your team.  It entails more than the time in your office with them sitting across the desk.  It necessitates time in their environments where you can listen and hear what is imperative to them. 

Remember it is your people who are going to assassinate your plan, often for reasons they do not even comprehend.  It’s your obligation as a leader to be proactive and stay ahead of them.  Understand what the motivations of each member of the team are.  There are those that have seen it all before.  They feel they have heard of all the changes you describe and invested themselves only to find disappointment.  They would rather hold onto their misery than put themselves out there gain and suffer another disappointment.  Or there are those who hold their misery because they are content with the routine; a daily routine which has become manageable and “easy” for them to navigate.  And there are those who will just refuse to accept someone may have better ideas.  There are thousand, maybe a million, different situations like this, each connecting someone’s resistance to the idea of change.  Regardless of the reasons for their confrontation to change, they are really suffering … miserably suffering. 

To become a strong leader you need to be strong on the people level.  Regardless of your talents, IQ, education, or your planning ability, if you are not able to move people forward, you will fail.

Leading people from misery to change involves three steps.  First, you need to build trust with people.  This comes from having a personal relationship with them.  Someone has to feel they know you and that you understand them before they are going to trust you. Once you have this basic trust established, you are then able to use it to leverage a Change Proposition. The change proposition is quite simple to extend.  The essential element is to remove the risk from the situation.  Your team must understand that the success of the project is their success.  They will have dedicated themselves to an outcome they can be proud of.  But more importantly, they must trust that if they give their comprehensive effort and the projects fails, the accountability will rest squarely on you, their Tough Leader.   It will be your failure.  Think about how many mangers you have seen set up the change proposition 180 degrees from this.  They quickly take the credit for success and blame the team for failure.   This is an anticipated misery far greater than the one they are clutching onto.  The change proposition is victorious when you generate a situation where people have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Next, build a roadmap of your vision to inspire your team.  It is important for them to see your vision of the end result and how much better they will be, but they are not leaving their misery to jump off of a cliff with you.  You must illustrate a piece by piece methodology where they can see realism and success in incremental steps.  Only then will they begin to ease the grip on their misery and grasp change.  By moving them through your change process one successful step at a time, you will find that they begin to take each new step faster and faster.  Eventually you can lead a team to running if they trust you and see the firm ground ahead.

Finally, celebrate the successes with your team.  Too many managers fail to become great leaders simply because they do not know how to distinguish their team’s achievements.  Changing is difficult.  Even success can leave a team exasperated and drained.  Without acknowledgment, your goal has been accomplished but the prominent opportunity has been squandered.  Each successful change should propel the next one.  It is important to replenish, re-invigorate, and re-inspire your team for the next challenge.  Celebration doesn’t mean you should throw a party for every small accomplishment.  But it does mean that every small accomplishment should be recognized allowing each person to absorb a moment of pride.

The change proposition is a circular event.  Trust strengthens (both ways) with each success and builds for the next project.  The next roadmap becomes clearer and your team becomes more willing to move forward on faith.  And everyone learns that change is not daunting as they celebrate progress.  With each cycle your team picks up speed, momentum, and efficiency and your pursuits become easier.

People really aren’t so hard, if you begin with the realization that it really is all about people.  Everyone has plans and everyone has ideas.  Everyone has great products and services.  But in reality, nothing changes until people change.  You need to mobilize your team in order to deliver change.  You need to gain their trust, show them the plan, and create a perpetual cycle of success for your team and for yourself.  There are many other business psychology issues you’ll have to learn to become a great Street Smart Leader.  But if you can disentangle the bonds of misery among your team, you will witness a remarkable proliferation in your A-Team’s accomplishments.  Business is easy – People are hard… Until you realize it is the people who take flight that change the world.