National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

To the Unmotivated Motivator

Family Matters: Working Life

BY Dave Durand

July 27-August 9, 2008 Issue | Posted 7/22/08 at 12:54 PM


What is the key to motivating others? It seems like people are either motivated or not. Whatever I do to pump them up seems irrelevant. Sometimes I wonder if the key to building a motivated team is simply hiring and firing until you get the right people. Everything else seems to be a waste of time.

I can sense the frustration in your question and your frustration has some merit. Finding the right people is a major piece of the puzzle when it comes to motivating people, so you are right to make that a central focus. But there are many things you can do to motivate people, and it is your obligation as a leader to take that responsibility seriously.

This has been a particular area of interest for me for nearly two decades. As an entrepreneur, I have found motivating others a rewarding — and absolutely essential — aspect of my work. That experience, combined with the wisdom of the saints and the Church, has helped me develop what I call the “four wheels” for motivating others.

The first wheel is to work with the individual to set a target or goal. No matter if your people are students, employees or your own children, they will lack motivation if they are unsure of their goal. The biggest error that leaders make is to give out the goal without considering the particular experience or skill set of the person.

If the goal is established mutually, your employee is more likely to invest himself in achieving it. Your job as a leader is to help him reach higher than he might otherwise on his own. So don’t be afraid to ask a lot out of him. If he has legitimate concerns about achieving the goal, then listen and work to get through the obstacles together.

The second wheel is to build confidence by telling him why you believe he can achieve the goal. It is important to be specific when you do this. Don’t flatter him or speak in general “You-can-do-it” clichés. Tell him what you see in his character, experience or talents that make you feel confident in him.

The third wheel is to let him know how you will support him. People who need motivating don’t need to know that you will do their work for them. Instead they just want to know that they are not alone in the effort.

Your support is like a coach cheering the runner on the track. Hearing your voice of encouragement and instructions along the way are inspiring and helpful.

The fourth and final wheel is to reward and recognize him along the way. Don’t wait 30 years to hand out a gold watch at a retirement party before you let him know you appreciated him all along. Shower hard workers with your gratitude and praise. Spend a few dollars on a gift card to a coffee house or, if the numbers work, pay a bonus for his efforts along the way. Rarely do people leave organizations where they feel appreciated.

These four wheels would be incomplete if you did not demonstrate a joyful spirit in the office. People will see your enthusiasm for your work as a sign of hope and your frustration as a sign of fear.

Be the light on top of the hill and your team will prosper.

Last year Leadership Excellence magazine named Dave Durand one of the ‘top 100 minds on personal development.’ He’s online at