Education competencies: Motivating others

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies .


Creates a climate in which people want to do their best; can assess each person’s strengths and use them to get the best out of him or her; promotes confidence and optimistic attitudes; is someone people like working for and with.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Maintains a climate in which people want to do their best Creates and maintains a climate in which people want to do their best Empowers others and energizes them to do and to be their best Inspires and motivates whole organizations with ample positive energy
Is aware of each person’s strengths but does not consistently use this knowledge to motivate his or her actions Assesses each person’s strengths and uses them to get the best out of him or her Looks for positive attributes and concretely reinforces them, promoting confidence and optimistic attitudes Recognizes each person’s strengths, development needs, and professional goals, and inspires them to succeed
Makes individuals feel his or her work is important; is someone people like working for and with Invites input from each person and shares ownership and visibility Designs and provides incentives to encourage widespread participation and regularly incorporates stress-busters to minimize pressure points Appropriately rewards and acclaims individuals, groups, and organizations for stellar achievements
Able to motivate a limited range of individuals within the organization Able to motivate a wide range of individuals, including direct reports, team members, and project members Successfully motivates people and organizational units Successfully motivates the entire organization

Overdoing motivating others

  • May not be good at building team spirit because of an emphasis on individuals
  • May be seen as providing inequitable treatment by treating each person individually
  • May not take tough stands when the situation calls for it
  • May take too long getting input; may be reluctant to assign work with tough deadlines

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:

  • Who can I identify as a stellar contributor to our organization?
  • What reward(s) can I implement to acknowledge someone’s achievement?
  • Have I solicited and considered others’ input regarding our common goal?
  • Do I know what issues stir up passion in my coworkers?
  • What incentives can I put in place to generate activity and promote team spirit?
  • Have I challenged others with a reasonable yet tight deadline for completion of a project?

To avoid overdoing motivating others, ask yourself:

  • Am I paying too much attention to one individual at the cost of the whole team?
  • Am I taking too much time allowing others to give their opinions and input?
  • Am I avoiding dealing with a difficult situation for fear of causing a rift?

Interview questions

  • Tell me about a time when you created a work environment in which people wanted to do their best. How did you create that climate? What was the result?
  • Describe a situation in which you identified a person’s strengths, development needs, or goals and then used them to get the best out of that person.
  • Give examples of how you have varied your use of praise, reward, involvement, etc. to motivate different people. How did you determine the best approach for motivating them? How did you know you were effective?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to motivate a range of individuals in different roles. Describe the individuals or groups, their working relationship to you, and how you motivated them.

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Follow the basic rules of inspiring others: Communicate to people that what they do is important. Delegate a variety of enriching, challenging assignments and celebrate successes. Show interest in them and approach mistakes as learning opportunities. Be generous with your thanks.
  • Know and play the motivations odds: Provide challenges, communicate that the work is worthwhile, craft opportunities for learning and growth, and empower others with a measure of autonomy.
  • Use goals to motivate: Set realistic, yet stretching, goals.
  • Figure out what drives people: Observe their behavior (what do they do first?), their speech (do they use a lot of details and concepts?), their emotion (what are their hot buttons?), their values (are they driven by money, integrity, recognition?).
  • Turn off your judgment program: You only need to know what motivates them, not agree with it.
  • Be able to speak people’s language at their level: This demonstrates respect for them and allows them to communicate freely.
  • Bring others into your world: Explain your thinking and your perspective. Tell the things that interest and motivate you.
  • Know a little about others: Learn three non-work-related things about them, such as their family, their hobbies, their home. Look for things you have in common to talk about.
  • Turn a negative into a motivator: Take a negative characteristic and show how it can be turned into a positive. For example, if someone is clannish, show him or her how to get involved in the mainstream.
  • Get an individual involved deeply in his or her work: Delegate and empower as much as you can. Work with him or her in setting goals and mapping the way to achieve them.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Integrate a diverse system, process, or procedure across dispersed units.
  • Be a change agent; champion a significant change, and work toward implementation.
  • Relaunch an existing program or project that is not going well.
  • Assign a project to a group with a tight deadline.
  • Resolve an issue in conflict between two people or groups.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning to learn better:
    • Use objective data when judging others. Study others more than you evaluate or judge them. Project how they may act in a given situation.
    • Examine why you judge people the way you do. List the people you like and dislike and why. Discern what you have in common with them.
    • Pre-sell an idea to a key stakeholder. Identify those whose support you need. Collect information you need to be persuasive, and try to pre-sell your solutions.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Use multiple models. Select role models of towering strengths (or glaring weaknesses). Learn from characteristics rather than from the whole person.
    • Learn from those in authority. Distance yourself from your feelings, and analyze what those in authority do and do not do well. Choose to imitate the successful behavior.
    • Learn from ineffective behavior. Distance yourself from your feelings, and explore why the ineffective behavior didn't work.
    • Learn from interviewing others. Ask what, how, and why they do what they do, where they learned it, and how they keep it current and relative.
    • Get feedback from your direct reports. Set a positive tone, and don't retaliate if you don't agree.
    • Learn from limited staff. Look for ways to bring out the best in others who may lack skills or experience. Motivate by being a positive force, even in negative situations, and by giving feedback. Recognize when it's time to stop trying something and start over.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Take a supervisory course. Review the common practices of effective supervision

Recommended readings

  • Adair, John.The Inspirational Leader.London: Kogan Page, 2003.
  • Bolton, Robert, and Dorothy Grover Bolton.People Styles at Work—Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better.New York: AMACOM, 1996.
  • Carlaw, Malcolm, Peggy Carlaw, K. Deming Vasudha, and Kurt Friedmann.Managing and Motivating Contact Center Employees: Tools and Techniques for Inspiring Outstanding Performance From Your Frontline Staff.New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 2002.
  • Cloke, Kenneth, and Joan Goldsmith.The Art of Waking People Up: Cultivating Awareness and Authenticity at Work.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2003.
  • Crainer, Stuart.Motivating the New Generation—Modern Motivation Techniques.New York: BrownHerron Publishing, 2001.
  • Deems, Richard S., and Terri A. Deems.Leading in Tough Times: The Manager’s Guide to Responsibility, Trust, and Motivation.Amherst, MA: HRD Press, 2003.
  • Glanz, Barbara A.Handle With CARE: Motivating and Retaining Employees.New York: McGraw-Hill Trade, 2002.
  • Green, Thad.Motivation Management: Fueling Performance by Discovering What People Believe About Themselves and Their Organizations.Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing, 2000.
  • Grensing-Pophal, Lin.Motivating Today’s Employees.Bellingham, WA: Self Counsel Press, 2002.
  • Hiam, Alexander.Motivational Management: Inspiring Your People for Maximum Performance.New York: AMACOM, 2003.
  • Karp, Hank.Bridging the Boomer-Xer Gap.Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing, 2002.
  • Manz, Charles C., and Henry P. Sims, Jr.The New Superleadership: Leading Others to Lead Themselves.San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2001.
  • McKenna, Patrick J., and David H. Maister.First Among Equals: A Guidebook for How Group Managers Can Manage the Unmanageable.New York: The Free Press, 2002.
  • Scott, Wayne J., Thomas Miller, III, and Michele W. Scott.Motivating Others: Bringing Out the Best in People.Bloomington, IN: 1stBooks Library, 2001.
  • Thomas, Kenneth W.Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy & Commitment.San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2000.
  • Zemke, Ron, Claire Raines, and Bob Filipczak.Generations at Work.New York: AMACOM, 2000.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.

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