Beyond Motivation: 5 Steps to Building Discipline

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

The catch with motivation is its sustainability. As small business owners, we tend to focus on external motivation: rewards, recognition, praise. But external motivation is fleeting. We need to learn what drives us - and our individual team members - internally. What is it within you that drives you to perform? What is it within your team members that drives them to perform?

External motivation may drive our initial performance, but it is only in learning and harnessing those internal motivators that we can then drive DISCIPLINE, that critical power that dictates our actions and shapes our habits. And that's what your goal as a leader should be: to become so in tune with their internal motivators that you develop a team disciplined to demand peak performance from themselves and each other.

Motivation is useful in igniting the fire, but it is only in that transformation into disciplined thoughts, disciplined behavior, and disciplined processes that excellence is sustained. There are five steps you can take to drive your team towards disciplined performance.

1. Understand yourself. As a leader, you will face criticism, pushback, disengagement and self-doubt. Become completely aware of your own internal motivators to propel you through these obstacles. If you aren't completely invested in your own drivers, you'll never be able to harness those of your team. Having a clear understanding of and solid belief in why you do what you do will give you the confidence you will inevitably need to steer your team. 

This internal dialogue isn't necessarily an easy one: if you waver when you question your own investment, it may be time to consciously review your own motivators and whether or not you yourself are on the course you want. Consider also how you're interacting with your team: how are you crafting the words, decisions, and actions that are defining you as a leader?

Having a clear understanding of and solid belief in why you do what you do will give you the confidence you will inevitably need to steer your team.

2. Understand your team. Know what drives your team members as individuals. Know what they value. Know what their individual strengths and weaknesses are. These are all common sense notions for leaders, yet in the stress and pressure of managing to high performance, it's easy to become blind to the individual qualities - the very qualities that you'll need to call on to manage through the obstacles - in the interest of meeting a goal. Take the time to learn and periodically re-learn your team. Your understanding of them will not only strengthen your ability to lead them, but it will give credence to your stated investment in them.

business meeting
You must be able to harness the unifying power of vision.

3. Create commonality. Vision is powerful...And easily clouded when the chips are down. You must be able to harness the unifying power of that vision, but also be open to the very real possibility that the vision may morph over time. Realigning your team around the revised vision is equally important. Relying on that original commonality to continue to drive your team, if the vision has changed, could lead to uncertainty and disengagement.

Having a common vision, a truly shared understanding of why the team does what it does, will help solidify its disciplined approach to high performance. 

4. Celebrate differences, but unite them around that commonality. There is power in diversity; after all, we each bring unique perspectives, experiences and strengths. For a team to be its most effective, though, those differences must work as a cohesive whole driving that shared vision. In maximizing the momentum created by the initial motivation and transferring it into behavior disciplined by the desire for peak performance, your team will learn how to appreciate the various strengths and how to meld those with their own. 

This blog post creates a parallel between the cohesiveness of a philharmonic performance and that of your department, illustrating the power of teamwork.

 5. Measure engagement regularly. Disengagement happens frequently and can be spurred by events you as a leader may not even be aware of. Regular assessment of your team's buy-in and internal motivators will be crucial in helping you manage its overall success. Don't rely on a traditional annual review; shifts in staff's buy-in don't happen once per year, and as this article from The Training Industry suggests, creating a continuous feedback loop is far more effective.

Even the most disciplined teams need periodic encouragement, a renewed sense of purpose, and a reaffirmation of their value. Motivation as we often perceive it is absolutely critical in that capacity. It simply cannot be depended on as the single or most effective driver of performance. As you build your business, invest in building a staff that's not just motivated, but disciplined enough to become your most valuable resource.


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