Monday, September 28, 2015

Learning to Lead: Motivating People To Solve a Problem

In my previous post in the Learning to Lead series I talked about how being able to facilitate a conversation is an important leadership quality. In this post I'd like to talk about motivation and how the ability to motivate sets great leaders apart from the rest of the pack.

Many people's first reaction to motivation is to think about compensation. While compensation is an important motivator, it's not the ultimate motivator. If you haven't already, go watch the surprising truth about what motivates us. It debunks the myth that money is the ultimate motivator and is a great introduction to the type of things that will motivate once money isn't a worry any more.

I truly believe that the ability to motivate is one of the things that truly sets great leaders apart. Being a good motivator is not about being a cheerleader or always being positive and perky. While those things are occasionally required, motivation is about so much more than your attitude or presentation. Motivation is about being able to call others to action. In the tech industry this is especially important because lack of motivation has a direct correlation to loss of productivity, slipped schedules, and quality code (i.e. buggy and/or unmaintainable).

In my experience as both a software development engineer and as an engineering manager, there are three key areas to focus on when trying to motivate individuals or a team.


Engineers should understand the impact of what they're working on. This comes in the form of understanding the short term, mid-term, and long term benefits to their customers and their team. They should have enough information to understand why their work is important and to empathize with those that need it to be completed. Most engineers thrive on knowing that their work is being used by other people. It's much the same as an musician being motivated by knowing that others are listening to their songs. Or an author being motivated by knowing that someone is lost in their narrative.


This may sound obvious but the work that's being done should be interesting. If your engineers feel that what they're doing is busy work, repetitive, or monotonous they're not going to be motivated to complete it. In this case you need to learn to correlate the current work they're doing with something that is of interest to them. Often I've seen lack of interest when a team is in bug fixing mode or just about to ship a product. In this case it's important to emphasize how what they're working on now enables them to work on the next big thing.

Another way to help make the work interesting is to find a tie between it and their career development. Maybe it gives them exposure to a broader set of skills or technologies. Maybe it allows them to check a box on their career goals or will help prepare them for being promoted to the next level.


The engineer needs to personally relate to the problem in some way. The best way I've found to help engineers relate is by dogfooding their own software. Using their software everyday in their personal lives will help them see what others are experiencing. It will help them want to fix the pain points that otherwise wouldn't be important to them.

No comments:

Post a Comment