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Speaking as a Motivational Leader


Your communication is the key. By Marie J. Maher Ph.D.

I search the globe for the finest executives and my client properties are always seeking motivational leaders. I get asked frequently about how to distinguish when hiring, those who cannot only lead a team, but motivate them with inspiration and success.

Motivation is ultimately about increasing team morale and productivity, and is more an art than a science. For all successful senior leaders, years of trial and error and a great deal of self-discovery have gone into creating their “style”; their demeanour and interactions with staff, superiors, and peers. These more successful leaders have created a persona that is geared toward moving people toward the goals they are strategically planning. These strategies are not by chance; they are by design. The question is, how did they - and how can you, get to that point of influence as we lead and motivate our colleagues, support our friends, and assume guidance roles in our families and communities?

We all know that it is important to address new challenges with a positive attitude. And that includes our own attitude. Hope, vision, meaning and purpose are all motivational factors. Sustaining motivational effectiveness over long periods is challenging. Our world is becoming more unpredictable, disruption is a very real component of achievement, leaders are rarely un-plugged from demands of workplace and their emotional resources are tapped constantly.

Power and responsibility stress can wear people down. This effect often called the “sacrifice syndrome” is burn-out and diminished effectiveness. Emotions are contagious and people take their cues from leaders. It is likely that this type of burn-out can spread to a team or an entire organization. We become less optimistic, less hopeful, more task and less vision focused, and begin to take relationships for granted. In fact, we lose our edge. We are truly less effective.

This stage of overwhelmed leadership ability is very easy to spot. As an Executive Search expert, I can tell in the first telephone interview if I have a leader at engaged stage or the sacrifice stage. Obviously, I do not want to place an emotionally fatigued leader into an environment where I have been asked specifically for a motivational change agent. The gate keepers to career advancement, such as myself and others in the field of high level hiring, are quite literally the first and vital step in attaining those jobs. Those of us who are experts can read the tells very easily.

How can you avoid the sacrifice syndrome? In order to continue advancing in business, you must do so. Motivational leaders need to develop habits of the mind and behavior to support the role of renewal.


would include, among others, mindfulness, hope, and compassion. Mindfulness means staying in a state of awareness of both self and others and is a choice we must continually make. Ask yourself, what inspires you? Allowing yourself to attend to your own needs is not only intelligent but a wise business choice. You need personal sustainability more than any service or commodity you oversee.

Your process of renewal begins with mindfulness. Then, engaging hope and compassion counters some of the harm done by stress. Hope is what we experience when we look forward to a future that seems feasible and enticing. Hope carries us through transitions in life. Hope will drive you and your team to new heights. Hope must be cherished and not lost in the ebb and flow of life and business.

People with a positive vision are more likely to have a sense of purpose. This is true for groups as well, resulting in a clear sense of purpose and direction. Compassion is a very important aspect also. Compassion is empathy in action, which sparks positive physiological changes and triggers renewal and is contagious. Compassion can influence group and organizational culture and encourage mutual supportiveness.

I believe the first step in effective leadership is a clearer understanding of how people make choices, including the choice to support us or to lay booby traps along our path. How your team and friends are thinking about an issue is vital to grasping how they will respond to the issue. People are not superheroes, so renewal is vital and resonant leadership is common sense. In self-awareness, social awareness, and self-management, understanding self-talk both for ourselves and others plays a big role in our general understanding of the possibilities inherent in handling our thoughts with intention.

For many average people prior to this time, “thoughts” were often seen as outside forces to which a person was vulnerable. I remember listening to older people as a child, telling stories about how they had been “driven” to do something by their wayward thoughts. This sense of being carried along by a force larger than one’s self is, of course, typical of an external locus of control and those who feel controlled by life. In a very real sense, such individuals are extremely difficult to motivate.

Internal thinkers are those who feel they have control over much of their life. They speak and act with more direct speech, such as “Let’s make this happen”. Understanding the paradigm of the locus of control is important, but so also is understanding the diversities inherent in cultural, ethnic, religious, class, and gender socialization.

Obviously, there are also significant differences in applying this knowledge in a micro and a macro model. To begin to change or redirect our own personal thought process is certainly no easy process, but to do so for others is very challenging. Changing one’s self is challenging. Changing the others’ self concepts is mind boggling.

If we do not engage with the control beliefs held by our subordinates in a team leadership dynamic, or with our teenager in the next bedroom, we exacerbate their feeling of powerless-ness and anger against larger forces. Yet, as many of you know from frustrating personal experience, engaging with a very external personality can make one want to throw up your hands in despair. How many times have we all heard, “That never works here”, or “you never let me”?

Motivation is NOT one size fits all. Every person is motivated by different goals and a different sense of achievement. The paradigm of locus of control points out that some people will feel they have less control of all aspects of their life while others feel much more in control. This is a good model to remember in daily life. Obviously, each person requires a different motivational strategy.

This is where a truly motivational individual relishes the opportunity to encourage ALL others across the board, regardless of their cultural or social beliefs and values. But HOW you say, can I encourage diverse people to achieve, enjoy, and excel, and their tasks and in their lives? I may not even know them well enough to make these calls.

An attribute of such gifted people is their ability to use MOTIVATIONAL COMMUNICATION effectively and consistently. Regardless of the other person’s individuality, you will NOT succeed in motivating them if you do not grasp the importance of motivational communication, understand and learn it, and practice it in every aspect of your life. That includes conversations with an executive search consultant!

If you are going to assume the role of motivating another person or group, you need to be very aware of your high level of visibility with these “others”. They will be looking at you, really looking, to see if you exemplify what you want from them. I will be really listening to you when I contact you for a high ranking position.

You will not be effective in elevating others if you are clearly not doing so for yourself. People look to others for authenticity, credibility, and transparency. You must master motivational communication. No doubt all of you reading this have taken some sort of communication classes. You probably know all about body language, eye contact, reflective listening and more. These are very important tools to have in your arsenal as a motivational person. But, they are not what I want to focus upon here. For our purposes now, I want you to consider the content of your communication overall.

Think back upon times in your life when you tried very hard to do as another person asked; to accomplish something they assigned, to make them proud of you, to satisfy their demands of you. You may have even held an unspoken dialogue with this person in your mind as you worked on the challenge. Perhaps you hoped they would be pleased, proud, surprised, satisfied with your effort.

Now, remember their actual response. Was it positive, empowering, grateful, supportive? Or was it diminishing, critical, disinterested, or dismissive? In daily life and in the workplace, we have countless opportunities every single day to use motivational communication to enhance and enrich the lives of others. It is easy to do, costs nothing but your strategic thought, and can change the course of another person’s day. But, do you consistently use it? I am guessing that you do not. This is because you have adopted learned behaviors from others around you.

Sadly, the normal discourse we encounter in daily life is far from motivational. We continuously hear others in our lives complain, criticize, express anger and frustration, belittle, command, gossip, and use sarcasm very easily. We see this on media, hear it in song lyrics, and are surrounded by a morass of unproductive communication as the general rule. It’s easy to slip into the complaining mode, or the paranoid and apprehensive models. How we talk, embeds thoughts into our consciousness and helps to create our own reality. Ask yourself, if you took the negative commentary out of your life, how much remains?

The first step toward motivating others is really knowing and understanding yourself. I challenge you to consider the way YOU communicate throughout the day. How much positive energy is expressed in your communication? How much disappointment, discomfort, frustration, and unhappiness is part of your communication style?

Marie J. Maher Ph.D. is the owner of Recruiting by Marie Maher www.recruitingbymariemaher. com placing management talent internationally within Casino Gaming and Hospitality industries to include Dining, Lodging and all Entertainment venues. Contact her: marie@mariejmaher.com