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Igniting Self-Motivation

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As a team leader, your goal is to develop the competencies of each individual on your team, so that they are self-motivated and don’t need to rely on others for direction and guidance. There are different ways to encourage self-motivation including:

  • Setting high expectations
  • Tapping into the inner work life of a team
  • Using small wins to acknowledge progress

Setting high expectations

Setting high expectations for your team will trigger better performances from them. Similarly, if you set low expectations, this can lead to lower performance from your team. When you set high expectations, your team will be motivated to ensure more efficient work practices and to refine their skills in order to improve their individual performance and meet your expectations. This can lead to an improvement in job satisfaction with happier team members and an improvement in work-life balance.

Tapping into the inner work life of a team

There are many different theories around motivation, each one of them striving to promote techniques that ignite long-term, sustainable motivation. However, all of these theories will fail without one vital ingredient - the ability to inspire people to access the ‘inner work life’ that produces self-motivation.

Inner work life can be defined as the various and changing perceptions and emotions that individuals experience throughout the working day as they react to, and make sense of, interactions and events that unfold around them. For example, your perception of a colleague could be negative, that they are irritable; or you could feel elation after winning a new contract, and so on. Your inner work life directly affects, and feeds into, your own level of self-motivation.

Using small wins to acknowledge progress

According to The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer, progress is the strongest motivational factor. It suggests that of all the positive events that influence your inner work life, the single most powerful event is making progress in meaningful work. Equally, of all the possible negative events, the single most powerful event is the opposite of progress: experiencing setbacks in your work.

As a team leader, you can use the Progress Principle to motivate your team. Even when progress occurs in small steps, a sense of steady forward momentum towards an important goal can make all the difference on a daily basis. Small wins by your team have a strong positive effect, whereas small losses can produce a strong negative effect.

Research shows that a highly motivated team is more likely to be creative. What this means in practice for you as team leader is that when your team records a success, they may be more motivated and open to new, challenging work that demands creativity and high performance. In addition, following days of notable progress, the team may be more self-motivated than usual to take on difficult problems and find creative solutions.

Team formation

The formation of any team will bring its own motivational issues. The development pressures on employees follow a natural course, as identified by Bruce Tuckman's research in the field of group development. His research compiled the results of 50 studies on group development and identified four stages of development for any team: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.

Tuckman found that when individuals are new to a team or task, they are motivated but usually relatively uninformed of the issues and objectives of the team. This is where the manager comes into play – they must tap into the inner work life and motivations of the individual employees, throughout each of the four stages Tuckman identified:

  1. Forming is when group members meet about a common goal and motivation is high, but uninformed. The group needs to work out relationships and counter dependencies and team leaders should be directive.
  2. Storming is when group members learn how to work together, and motivation is challenged. Group members learn about the abilities and capabilities of other members.
  3. Norming is when group members start to work and act as a team, and high motivation is now the norm. Members’ roles are focused on helping the team succeed.
  4. Performing is when balance is achieved by the team working towards common goals. All members of the team are accessing their inner work motivation. Members are flexible, agile, and focused.

As the team moves through these four stages of development, performance, self-motivation, and productivity increase.

Motivation in action

A good example of self-motivation and inner work drive is a research project undertaken to determine motivation factors in the American workforce following the Second World War. As part of the project, a team was formed in an air-conditioning-unit manufacturing company. The recruited team were only informed about two elements of their new assignment - they were to join a special team in a unique experiment into human performance, and they would be assembling domestic air-conditioning units.

The entire team then completed a week of training for a hand-assembly production line. Over the following months, the production line and the entire assembly team moved location numerous times - often at short notice and during unsociable hours.

However, throughout the course of these physically arduous production-line relocations, the hand assembly production output did not decrease; in fact, there was a marked increase in production of the air-conditioning units. The final relocation of the assembly production line found the team at high altitude on a snow-covered mountain, working in a tent with no heating, on a stormy night. Even under these extreme conditions, the production output took a marked jump upwards.

Why did this happen? Where did their self-motivation come from to access their inner work drive?

When debriefed, each member of the team recalled their original team briefing on day one, when they were informed that they were a special team with a special task. This motivated them to excel in whatever was thrown at them to prove that they were worthy members of this special team!

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Kevin J Reid and Bill Phillips

Kevin Reid is CEO of Personal Skills Training, Senior Coach at Kevin J Reid Coaching, Co-founder and Communications Director of The Counsel.ie, and Lead Collaborator of LeitrimMade.com.

  • A consummate and skillful international communications trainer, facilitator, and coach
  • Has over 15 years of learning development experience with individuals, teams, and entire organizations
  • Has facilitated communications workshops and training across numerous sectors in Ireland, the UK, Europe, America, and Africa

In this module, Kevin is the instructor for the ‘The Art of Persuasion’ and ‘Motivating Your Team’ lessons.


Bill Phillips is an International Facilitator, Trainer, and Team Coach.

  • Has successfully coached CEOs, board members, directors, executive teams, and team leaders in public and private companies, NGOs, and UN organizations in 15 countries across four continents
  • Is the creator of Future-basing®, a highly potent process for building strategy, vision, and cooperation
  • Inspires people to build excellent interpersonal relationships and achieve their goals

In this module, Bill is the instructor for the ‘Managing Upwards’ lesson.

The following pieces of content from the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library have been chosen to offer additional material that you might find interesting or insightful.

You can find more information and content like this on the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library

You will not be assessed on this content.


    Persuading and Influencing
    Kevin J Reid and Bill Phillips
    Skills Expert

    The ability to persuade and influence others is an important skill that every leader should aim to cultivate. Being able to persuade and influence means that leaders can win people over to their way of thinking, get things done, and achieve results – without having to coerce employees or bribe them into action.

    In this module, you will learn techniques you can use to successfully persuade an audience, such as listening actively to audience members when they speak to you, and being honest and trustworthy in all your communications. You will also discover how to handle any objections you may encounter to your proposals.

    In addition, you will learn the importance of developing a self-motivating team, who don’t always rely on you for direction. You will learn techniques you can use to motivate employees, such as setting goals that they have an interest in and delegating important tasks. You will learn why it’s better to focus on intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, motivation. And you will learn how to recognize the signals that point to a motivated team.

    And it’s not just your employees that you need to concentrate on. It can also be beneficial to manage upwards, and to be able to persuade and influence your boss. Managing upwards involves building the best possible relationship with your boss, with the intention of making both your work lives easier. This module provides tips and techniques to help you do that.