Do you know what motivates your people?

Treat them the way they wish to be treated

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Carol Kinsey GomanBill Toppeta, a former executive officer of MetLife, Inc., once told the Fordham Leadership Forum, “What you need to know as the leader is what motivates your people, not what motivates you.”

To bring this philosophy into reality, here is the simple yet revealing exercise Toppeta used: He would distribute a questionnaire to managers and their direct reports. The managers ranked the items on the page in the order of what they believed most and least motivated their direct reports. At the same time, the direct reports also ranked the items on the list. The lists were compared, and then a discussion began that looked at the results.

Toppeta said that, for the most part, managers did horribly on this exercise. They thought they knew what their people were passionate about – but they were wrong.

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When we talk today about showing empathetic leadership and creating psychological safety, we sometimes forget to ask the very people we are trying to influence questions like: “What’s your point of view?” “What makes you feel valued and safe?” “What motivates you?” “What’s working and not working for you right now?”

Another way to think about this is to apply The Platinum Rule. As you know, The Golden Rule is to “Treat others as you wish to be treated.” The Platinum Rule is “Treat others the way they wish to be treated.” The Platinum Rule requires a deeper connection with and attention to the other person’s preferences, motivations and emotions.

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But don’t simply guess what that emotional state is – or use what motivates you as a standard for all. Begin by asking – and listening closely to the answers.

Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence. For interview requests, click here.


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