Tired of pushing that rock uphill? Try this…


I met with a business owner a few weeks ago who was exhausted.  This wasn’t just your common ‘I’ve had a long couple of days and I need some sleep‘ exhausted. This was more like ‘I have been pushing a huge rock uphill for years and I can’t take anymore‘ exhausted.

He was burnt out.

There’s no doubt about it – running a business is hard. Managing a team successfully is hard. And when you feel like you are the sole source of energy for the team…that you are the only person pushing for results it’s exhausting, especially over time. That’s not to say that you can’t have a successful team or business operating that way – lots of people do…it’s just not sustainable for the long run and you’re not going to be very flexible or proactive since all of your energy and focus is towards making things happen every day.

The good news is there’s an alternative that works for any team. Imagine having a team around you that is delivering great results, coming up with new ideas and implementing them without your specific direction. A team that stays up at night worrying about how to make things better (just like you do). It’s not a complex idea, but it’s also not easy to implement – but if you can get there, you’ll have the makings of not just a good team or business, but a GREAT team that will blow your competitors out of the water.

But there’s a catch, and this is a big reason why there aren’t more of these kinds of teams.  If you want to create this kind of team, then as the leader you have to let go. You have to empower others on the team to take ownership and responsibility for the outcomes and the approach. If you’re a typical small business owner, that idea probably makes you a little bit nervous.

It’s all about Motivation…

This is a recurring idea that I’ve been noticing in a lot of the business books that I’ve read or presented on at Book Reviews over the last couple of years. If you want a team that’s engaged and motivated, that motivation has to be intrinsic – it has to come from within those individuals, not from the top down.

In Dan Pink’s great book ‘Drive’ he identifies the 3 drivers to intrinsic motivation: Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose.  If you can enable these 3 ingredients in your workplace, then good things will happen.

Mastery is the idea of enabling and encouraging the growth of skills and knowledge in a field that someone is interested in.  We are wired in a way that we want to become good at something that’s meaningful to us.  Do you know what your employees are good at…and what they’d like to master?

Autonomy is all about letting people find their own way of getting the job done.  Are you willing to let your team figure out their own solution…possibly with a failure along the way?

Purpose is the idea that there’s a bigger picture that the organization is pursuing, something meaningful…it’s more than just a job.  What’s the bigger reason (beyond money) that gets you up in the morning?  Have you articulated that? Have you recruited others that want that same outcome?

Creating an environment and culture that supports these 3 ingredients isn’t something you can just do overnight with a wave of a wand, but it is possible – if you make that your focus and priority.

Address your WIG with an RIP…

One tangible way to help create an empowered culture and add those motivational ingredients is to focus your team on a specific project or outcome that will make your business better.  In the book ‘The 4 Disciplines of Execution’ they recommend you start by figuring out your Wildly Important Goal (WIG) – the 1 or 2 strategic projects that would make the most impact in your business. Most teams or business owners try to do too many things…and they end up getting nothing done. It’s critical to narrow your focus down to just a few really important things at any one time.

In a similar fashion, in the book ‘Ownership Thinking’ by Brad Hams, the author recommends what he calls Rapid Improvement Plans (RIP). Again focusing your efforts on 1 or 2 key things and then having your team brainstorm ideas on how to improve or implement the changes that will help you reach your goals. These are focused bursts of improvement that your entire teams owns.

In both of these books, the key to success is making this a bottom up effort. As the business leader, you will ultimately identify the goals, but you have to let the team identify how they will reach those goals…and give them the tools to track and report on their progress (keep score) in a way that’s meaningful to the team…not just the leadership.

By creating focused, relatively short term reachable targets…and then celebrating your successes along the way, you will start energizing the team. If you’re focusing on the right things, you’ll end up with an engaged team that’s excited about making things happen.  Find a way to make it fun – more of a game and you’re well on your way to creating something special.

Do you have a culture of empowerment now? What would it mean to you if your team stepped up and surprised you with great ideas and execution that even you hadn’t considered?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – leave us a comment below.

Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach