Self-motivation: The often-forgotten essential skill for every leader

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They say it’s lonely at the top.  

Well, whoever ‘they’ are, they’re certainly not wrong.  

However, they also say that the higher you climb, the less support you have; the less encouragement or inspiration you receive; and that your ability to confide in anyone evaporates. 

Now this is where I believe ‘they’ have got it wrong. 

Sure, it can be extremely isolating sitting at the top of the org chart. But this doesn’t mean that as a leader you suddenly lose the support and trusted network that you may have once had as you made your way up the corporate ladder. 

I have a leadership coach. 

In fact, I’ve been working with her now for nearly 20 years and I can attribute much of the success that I achieved as a leader throughout my career to her incredibly valuable guidance and counsel, and constant support. 

An impartial voice of reason and someone in whom I have confided way more over the years than I would ever have done with any manager, or even for that matter with anyone in my own company. 

She has always held me accountable. She has always ensured that I created a vision and stuck to it (as best as I could). She has always helped me see that ‘light on the hill’, even in some very dark times. And, above all, she has always made it her goal to ensure I kept myself motivated. 

I think I need to stress this last point again. She has always made it her goal to ensure I kept myself motivated. Please note that I didn’t say, ‘she always made it her goal to keep me motivated’. 

There’s a big difference. 

In fact, I can vividly recall when she first made this point very clear to me. 

I had been working on a huge regional project that culminated in a major event in Japan. Both the project and the event were extremely successful and yet for the weeks immediately following the event, I was flat. Although I would put on an upbeat and positive front for my team, I was very quickly making my way along the proverbial downward spiral. And I wasn’t myself. Far from it. 

I asked my coach if she could help me get my motivation back, and she quickly told me that it wasn’t her job. 

I remember looking at her very strangely since I was convinced that’s exactly what her job was. 

Instead, she explained to me that only I was capable of getting my motivation back, but that she would ensure I came up with strategies to focus on my self-motivation, and together we put them in place. 

“After all,” she said. “Self-motivation is an essential leadership skill and is one of the few core competencies underpinning emotional intelligence”. 

In a recent article, we shared these core competencies at a high level.  

  • Self-awareness 
  • Self-regulation 
  • Empathy   
  • Social skills  
  • Self-motivation   

Since then, we’ve done deep dives into self-awareness and the importance of knowing your emotions, strengths, weaknesses and values, as well as self-regulation – referring to a leader’s ability to control their emotions and prevent erratic or irrational outbursts. 

In this piece, we’ll be shining the spotlight on self-motivation, and the importance of identifying your purpose, taking pride in and feeling passionate about seeking new challenges, bouncing back and demonstrating optimism in the face of setbacks, and the relentless pursuit of learning and professional development. 

As a leader, trying to motivate yourself throughout the Pandemic and managing remote teams during lockdowns certainly had its challenges. But as we are adapting to the new normal and learning to embrace the now familiar hybrid work environment, focusing on your own motivation levels is perhaps more important than ever before. 

Do you have any strategies to help you stay self-motivated? 

Finding comfort outside your comfort zone 

Whilst this might not appear to be an obvious strategy for motivating yourself as a leader, it’s a bit like the satisfaction one feels reaching the summit of a mountain. The idea of the climb might seem daunting (perhaps even terrifying), and the ascent might be painful at times. But when you look back at the path you took, you can’t help but feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Setting yourself goals that will stretch you and put you outside your comfort zone can certainly keep you motivated. 

Embracing change 

If you tend to dwell on uncertainty or get anxious when unanticipated challenges suddenly appear on your path, this can negatively impact your motivation levels. Whilst you might think it easier said than done, a slight shift in your mindset can flip your motivation back in the right direction. Telling yourself that as a leader, part of your own professional development is to try to embrace change and face uncertainty head on will hopefully give you just the right amount of adrenaline rush to energise you once more. 

Rewarding yourself 

Your team members are constantly craving recognition and often feel they deserve a reward for simply doing what is expected of them. How you choose to respond to these needs is entirely up to you. However, part of the isolation (or loneliness) ‘at the top’ that we alluded to earlier is due to the lack of reward and recognition that you receive as a leader. So, make sure that from time to time you congratulate yourself. Recognise your own achievements (big and small) and treat yourself accordingly. Don’t let your successes go unnoticed simply because you’re the one flying the plane. 

Reflecting constantly 

Stopping to take stock at the end of every month or quarter, or at the end of a major project that you’ve been responsible for is essential. Many leaders will reflect on the financial results, or on the team’s performance. But reflecting on your own performance as the leader is vital. What worked well for you? What didn’t quite go according to plan for you? What did you learn? What might you do differently. Self-reflection will certainly help you re-energise, re-focus, and re-ignite your motivation for the upcoming month, quarter, or major milestone. 

Articulating your purpose 

You might think this is a bit ‘out there’ or ‘fluffy’, but you can’t just be motivated for the sake of being motivated. You really need a purpose or goal to be motivated for. Whether you call it your vision, ‘north star’ or ‘light on the hill’ (as my coach always says), this will be what drives you; what gets you out of bed every morning; what makes you thrive; what you can then so rightly reward yourself for. You might want to articulate your vision or purpose at the start of the year, at the start of the quarter, or even at the beginning of every month. Just putting it down on paper and focusing on it is one way to start. 

Finding a balance 

Whether you strive for work-life balance, work-life integration, or work-life separation (and there is a difference between each of these strategies or goals), the primary focus for any leader is to find time away from the business and to focus on yourself, your mental health and well-being. After all, if your body is depleted or if you are continually sleep deprived, it’s just as bad as being drunk on the job. Having a day off blocked in the calendar, a long weekend planned, or a proper holiday booked in advance is sure to keep your motivation levels up. 

Getting a coach 

Of course, your role is to motivate your team members. But you can’t do that if you don’t motivate yourself first.

Remember hellomonday provides coaching and support to every leader, prioritising development initiatives that result in long-term sustained learning and change, reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching, and ideally helping leaders understand the importance of self-motivation.   

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