Do You Know Who You're Motivating? -- Motivation, Part 3

Last week we looked at an epic sports turnaround that leveraged an under appreciated motivational tool. This week our series on motivation turn its attention to a simple 4-step application that enables us to motivate those we lead more effectively.

Last Thursday I spoke to a group of people who lead the financial functions within their companies. There were about 80 people in the room when I asked them to choose the most important leadership capabilities from a list of eight possibilities. For what felt like the millionth time in my experience as a speaker and consultant, the most popular category selected was that of motivation. No matter the conference or leadership team with whom I'm engaged, everyone seems to value the leader’s ability to motivate those he/she leads.

At times we can be tempted to rely on organizational systems that bestow recognition, champion accountability, and censure poor performance as key motivational drivers. While such systems are required for nearly any professional organization, we need to recognize that they fail to acknowledge one of the most important factors in motivation: the individual being motivated.

Understanding the unique makeup of each person we lead is important for those of us who want to unleash the motivation that lives within our followers. Though daily interactions give us a picture of who our followers are, they don’t tell us the whole story. For that, we must dig deeper.

The Four P’s

The most famous “Four P’s” in business comes from the world of marketing. Evaluating the “product, price, placement, and promotion” of any good or service is standard practice when we are looking to maximize sales. There’s another set of Four P’s, however, that help us maximize our understanding of those we are leading and, thereby, our ability to tap into what motivates them.

I’ve had many opportunities to work with consultant Chip Toth ( Chip is a master of all things one-on-one. Leadership coaching: check. Personal development: check. Listening intently to someone’s story: double check. Chip is great at getting to know people one-on-one. So when Chip suggested there that were four P’s every leader should know about his/her followers, I listened. Here they are…


We all have a history that shapes and influences who we are today. Understanding the backstories of those we lead helps us understand them as the people we lead today.

Examples of questions to ask: “Why did you take the professional paths that you have?” “What are some critical learnings from your past that have stuck with you over time?” “What kind of things interested you when you were younger?”


If you’ve reached the age of 28, you’ve likely had at least one traumatic work experience. Difficult circumstances, whether professionally or personally, do a great deal to shape who we are. So asking questions about the pain our followers have been through makes sense if we are trying to get to know them as people.

Examples of questions to ask: “What type of challenges have you encountered professionally (or personally)?” “What was something challenging in your work (or personal life) that you hope to never encounter again?” “What kind of things get you riled up?”


Everyone has things they love to do or situations they love to be in. Understanding these is a valuable window into the lives of those you lead.

Examples of questions to ask: “What do you enjoy doing outside of work?" “What do you enjoy most about the work you do?” “When do you feel most alive and invigorated?”

Perhaps more than any other category, asking “Why?” as a follow up to these questions is important. When it comes to the things your followers love, understanding why they love what they love provides a much clearer (and more interesting, by the way) picture of who they are.


While not everyone has a master plan for where they are going in life, few people have a completely blank canvass regarding the future they’d like to experience. Whether personally or professionally, most of your followers have hopes and dreams for the future. Learning a little bit about those hopes and dreams helps us know them better as people.

Examples of questions to ask: “Where do you hope to be 6 months, a year, or 5 years from now?” “Do you have any specific goals (personally or professionally) that you are currently working toward? “When you think about an ideal future for yourself, what comes to mind?”

A special word of caution on this category: be thoughtful about when and where you ask questions about one of your followers’ potential futures. Coming from you as a leader, these types of questions can tempt even the very independent followers to give pat answers about their career goals and dedication to the company. Avoid this. Getting to know those you lead is about genuine connection and understanding, not allegiance to you or your company.

Doing More Than Asking Questions

While it might seem counterintuitive to say so, in order to get to know your people, you’ll need to tell them who you are. Sharing from your own Four P's (past, pain, pleasure, and potential) is a valuable first step in getting to know your’ followers more deeply. When you share with them from your own life, you model the quality and depth of information you’d like to hear from them. And if you’ve decided to be a little bit vulnerable about a particular topic, you’ll communicate to others that it is safe to share more than surface level answers.

If we want to truly get to know those we lead, we can’t robotically ask the Four P’s. We must apply wisdom as to the timing and circumstances in which we get to know our people. We must gauge the depth of our current relationships with them and consistently ask the best questions that will take us to the next step in the relationship. Skipping steps is a bad idea. For example, asking deeply personal questions before there is enough relationship to do so not only hurts the relationship but can also call into question the motives behind the questions themselves. So be wise as you seek to know your people better.

Not everyone will readily jump in when you ask them about who they are. Don’t let that discourage you. People are unique. Some are more trusting than others. Some are more ready to share who they are than others. No matter the responses you get as you attempt to get to know those you lead, remember that knowing the uniqueness of each person you lead helps you connect with who they are and understand what motivates them to action.

Share Your Thoughts: What intentional practices do you have for getting to know your people deeply? How have you uniquely tapped into the motivations within those you lead by getting to know them personally?  We'd love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.

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