Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
November 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Understanding Motivation

The question of how to motivate people gets a lot of leadership attention and rightly so. Motivation is the key to effective energetic action. When that motivation is channelled in the right direction great things can and often do happen. Good leaders are indeed good motivators. But the keys to motivating people are often badly misunderstood. With this installment I'll share what I've learned about motivating people, helping readers avoid the biggest mistake and use this leadership fundamental more effectively.

While there are many factors to consider, it has been my experience that three of the most powerful sources of motivation are fear, inspiration and relationships (and yes, money does not make our top three.) Now let's take a look at each and how they affect performance.


I've known far too many leaders who see fear as an effective motivator. They call a staff meeting, read everyone the riot act, threaten and intimidate, and believe this will motivate better performance. They see the immediate reaction they get in the room and think they've been effective, but they don't see the sag that follows. The problem with fear is twofold. First, fear generally causes people to run away from something not toward it. And, the larger problem is that fear creates an unnecessary distraction. When people are fearful they pour much of their energy into worry and self preservation, not work.

Fear also erodes another leadership essential – trust. The fundamental trust question is: will my leader harm me or protect me? The answer to this question is where trust is built or broken. When leaders threaten harm trust is broken and all initiative is lost. Once again, people go into survival mode.


Classically defined, to inspire means to provoke others to creative activity. When skillful leaders inspire others to pursue a vision, work toward a much needed change, or even pick up the pace when necessary, they provoke followers into creative action. Inspiration motivates others to move toward something worthwhile or even necessary instead of away from something they see as a threat. While fear creates distraction and worry, inspiration creates alignment and focused activity. Fear is always a constricting force; inspiration is always a liberating force.

Even in the most difficult circumstances inspiration is a far more potent motivator, especially when it is combined with a little encouragement and our third motivator - strong relationships.


So few leaders give relationships the attention they deserve but the best understand that there is power in relationships. One of the most basic and powerful leadership truths I teach time and time again is the reality that followers care about leaders who care about them - they don't want to let these types of leaders down.

In the best coach athlete relationships, athletes want to please the coach as much as they want the personal satisfaction of a good performance – the same dynamic is at play in the best leader follower relationships. Leaders who use fear tactics send a very contrary message. They build relationships in which people do what they must to survive but no more.

For the best leaders, fear is an enemy to be confronted; inspiration a force to be pursued. Build strong caring relationships, dispense with the fear tactics, and learn to inspire others with new possibilities and you will be well on your way to building a motivated, high performing team.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Recall the last leader you worked for who used fear, how did it affect the way you and others felt about the workplace?
  2. When you are under pressure do you tend to default to fear or inspiration as a motivator?

To go deeper on leadership call or write about a half day workshop or a keynote address.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
November 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor


Has this article sparked some thinking?
Join our blog Talking Leadership here to share it with other readers.


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The Pain Problem, October 2016

The Big Question, September 2016

Risky Business, March 2016

Mentoring in the Moment, January 2016

Sacrificial Leadership, December 2015

5 Tactics For Better Meetings, November 2015

Leader as Follower, October 2015

Dynamic Balance, September 2015

Fearless Humility, August 2015

Fear and Accountability, July 2015

Building a Feedback Culture, June 2015

Fostering Accountability, May 2015

Confront or Avoid?, Apr. 2015

The Heart of Accountability, Mar. 2015

Powerful Ambition, Feb. 2015

Inspiring Possibilities, Jan. 2015

Ralphie and the Strategic Approach, Dec. 2014

Disagree Well, Nov. 2014

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"Dan delivered his Heart and Hands of Leadership workshop as a guest speaker to kick-off to our senior management retreat. The content and particularly Dan's delivery of the information acted as catalysts in creating the conditions of success for our meeting. Throughout our sessions we kept referring back to the workshop as a benchmark of leadership behaviours required to bring our company to its next level. Participants were impressed with Dan's style and in his generosity to share from his own business management experience. No doubt in my mind that having Dan involved in our retreat will have a lasting impact on the success of Chariot Carriers in the future".
– Pierre Doyon, CEO, Chariot Carriers Inc.