Everyone starts their career as an individual contributor.

You’re hired to do “work.”

As you progress in your career, your role shifts toward leading and managing others who do the work.

A key skill many new leaders struggle with is how to motivate their direct reports and the peers they work with regularly.

I think this idea of motivating others is a bit of a misnomer (a word or phrase that doesn’t adequately describe the situation at hand).

I’ll tell you why in a moment.

People are funny creatures. It’s hard to make people do anything they don’t already want to do. The trick is to not get in the way of their natural tendencies and to channel their energies in a particular way.

This reminds me of a class I took on de-escalation skills for first responders. One of the biggest takeaways I learned from that class is that you don’t de-escalate someone having a very bad day. You mainly help them de-escalate themselves by: 1) Not making the situation worse; 2) Meeting them where they’re at; and 3) Guiding them to re-direct their bad-day energy in a way that does not harm them or others.

Motivation is very similar.

Motivating others is far more about avoiding de-motivating others than making somebody do something they fundamentally do not want to do.

When I had been at McKinsey for three years, they wanted me to stay to become an engagement manager. Although I decided it was not for me, I remember the firm encouraging me to stay on as a manager so I would learn how to manage people.

I remember laughing because it isn’t exactly that hard to motivate type-A, ambitious, driven consultants with one degree from Harvard and another from Oxford. No, those people are pretty self-motivated. The trick is to not get in the way… and yet, quite a few first-time engagement managers would do exactly that.

If you manage people or see yourself doing so in the future, it’s important to learn the skills you need before you mess up.

There’s an old saying.

Luck = Opportunity + Being Prepared (to take advantage of the opportunity when it arises)

Opportunities always arise… though not always at the time you prefer.

You can’t control when you get an opportunity, but you definitely can control whether you’re prepared.

If you want to learn how to manage and motivate others, I encourage you to sign up for my new course on How to Motivate Other People. You’ll find out how to develop and maximize your skills in this area so that you can motivate others without coming across as demanding or bossy. To learn more about this program, Click Here.