In August 2020 week I launched a little poll. The question was, what is most effective in leadership? Should you motivate employees or stop frustrating them. 78% (n = 36) said to stop frustrating staff is more effective than motivating (22%).
Intuitively I believe you are right. In recent surveys, I asked respondents what motivates them most in their work. No one answered, “my supervisor.” When asked what frustrates them most in their work, respondents mention the organization’s leadership, processes, controls, and regulations.
People like to be free to focus on their work (e.g., Niemiec & Spence, 2016). The less you burden them with organizational ballast, the better. Some very effective and successful organizations do precisely that (e.g., https://buurtzorg.org.uk): they make sure their people can do their work without making them jump through bureaucratic hoops or over-regulate. Some even have support departments that specialize in the procedural aspects, so that nurses can nurse, teachers can teach, and engineers can engineer.
So yes, to stop frustrating seems more practical. But there is a downside. At least, that is what research data indicate: Lessening people’s frustration decreases the negative spiral, but it does not inspire enhanced motivation or engagement (e.g., Van Tuin et al., 2020).
What will you do to support your people and feed the upward spiral of motivation and engagement? svenfremeijer says to stop and start listening. paulo-chaves suggests nurturing intrinsic motivation with joy at work. louisgoulmy posts that you can’t motivate people in the long run. All so true. What happens with us when we feel really listened to and taken seriously? What happens to you when you experience that? What was the last time you experienced your job as fun, enriching, and exciting? How does it feel when you do something entirely for the pleasure of doing it? What may happen when you, as a leader, craft a work context where people self-direct. Not because you motivate them, but because you created the right conditions for them to self-motivate and inspire each other.
I would love such a work environment. I think we all do. Maslow (Maslow, 1965) was famous for his optimism about the possibilities for the human potential at work. If we tap into it and create the right conditions, work can be where people self-actualize and lead a life of meaning and dignity.