Motivation is a leader’s responsibility, says Tshamani Mathebula.

Sundown vs Zamalek

On the 23rd October 2016 Sundowns FC, a South African Football Club played against Zamalek Sporting Club. Zamalek SC is an Egyptian Club and one of the best clubs in Africa. Sundowns FC won the game. They became the Confederation of African Football (CAF) champions for 2016. You can find more about the game here.

A few weeks later on the 19th November 2016, Sundowns had to play against the Kaizer Chiefs. Kaizer Chiefs is another South African Football club that has very good players. A few days before the game, an interview was held with the Sundowns’ coach, Pitso Mosimane. In the interview the coach said this: “I don’t know what to say to motivate the players. They have just won the CAF championship.  I am not a psychologist, so I don’t know how to motivate them further than this“.

The Coach’s response surprised and fascinated me. It made me think about how important motivation is and about the role of the leader in motivating employees. How honest and vulnerable should a leader be with their team and the public. Leaders do not need to be psychologists. However, it is their responsibility to motivate employees. This ensures that they improve their performance and productivity.

Playing to win

Sundowns went on to win the game against Kaizer Chiefs. This happened even though the coach had confessed in public that he does not know how to motivate them. Two things could have happened. First option:  he was honest with the players.  He probably told the players that he has nothing to say to motivate them. They must just go out and play the best game. The second option could be that the coach lied to the nation. He was able to motivate the players.

For this article, I choose to go with the first option. So let’s assume that the coach really did have nothing to say. So what could have motivated the players to win the game? And if this kind of dedication can happen in the soccer field, what stops it from happening within organizations?

Ensuring Employee Engagement

Leaders spend sleepless nights – and lots of money – trying to figure out how they can motivate their employees. There’s a lot of research on the importance of motivation on employee engagement. In addition to other motivating factors such as decent pay and good working environment, communication is one of the critical elements in motivating employees. In situations where employees feel disengaged and discouraged, exceptional leaders have given great speeches to motivate and inspire their team members. Leaders receive training to do presentations and public speaking. Organizations hire motivational speakers to motivate employees.

However, our case in point shows that sometimes it is not necessary to give a moving motivational speech when players go out to the field to play. At some point, employees need to take accountability of their actions and performance. They should not wait for the leader to always play the role of a “cheerleader”. And more, Sundowns players always receive nice bonuses when they win Championships.

The question is at what point can we say that employees have reached a level of maturity to be able to motivate themselves? It is also obvious that for employees to reach that maturity level, leaders would have worked hard in getting them there. When do you as a leader know that you have done enough?

Transformational Leadership and Motivation

Last year I completed my Masters research on “the relationship between the practice of transformational leadership and a high-performance culture”.  I found that employees place high value on intellectual stimulation and inspirational motivation.

Literature refers to intellectual stimulation as “leaders’ actions that call on employees’ intellectual capabilities by challenging them to think creatively and find solutions to difficult problems”.

A definition of Inspirational leadership is  “the ways leaders inspire and encourage employees to accept challenging goals and to look beyond their self-interest. Leaders encourage high standards, express hope and empower their team members. In that way employees develop confidence in their skills, abilities and potential”. the word inspiration comes from the Latin word inspirer. It means to breathe into or to provide oxygen, and subsequently, life. This means that inspirational leaders give their team members a reason or purpose to work. Hence they find meaning and purpose in their work.

From the above description, it is clear that the Sundowns coach and leadership had done a lot of work to inspire and empower the players. So the coach knew that they had reached a maturity level wherein they can face any challenge and come up with creative solutions. The players are confident about their skills, abilities and potential. Furthermore, they know the vision. The coach has helped them to find meaning and purpose in playing soccer. In her book “the Secret”, Rhonda Byrne refers to this as inspired action. 

The Secret of Motivation

Inspired action happens when people work to achieve meaning in their lives. Something that is within them drives them. Not some extrinsic motivation. The members do not need a leader who is always by their side to cheer them on to achieve what they set out to do. So the challenge that leaders have is how to get employees to reach a level of inspired action.

Tshamani Mathebula

Tshamani Mathebula

I am an experienced process facilitator whose purpose in life is to develop people so that they can be the best they can be in their personal and professional lives. I have 15 years experience in human resource development, organisational development, change management, culture transformation, employee engagement, graduate development, leadership development and coaching. I am passionate about leadership development and transformation, and my area of study is focused on transformational leadership and high performance culture.

Is Motivation Really Necessary?
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