Motivating Managers

Improving Morale and Engagement

Motivating Managers - Improving Morale and Engagement

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Find out what motivates your manager.

You're probably familiar and comfortable with the idea of motivating people in your team. But have you ever considered that your own boss may need some motivation to help you and your team to reach your objectives?

The experience of working for an unmotivated manager is probably unfamiliar to many professionals, but it's not that uncommon. For example, your manager may need motivation to complete undesirable tasks that you need him or her to do, so that you can function effectively in your role.

Or your boss might focus on his favorite projects, while not providing you with the support and inspiration that you need to make your own projects a success. Perhaps you even have a manager who's become "comfortable" in his role, and isn't driving you and his team forward as he used to when he started out in the organization.

Keeping managers motivated is extremely important to the health and spirit of an entire organization, and managers who aren't motivated – or who are "burned out" from too much stress – can have low productivity. This clearly then has a knock-on effect on overall team productivity and morale. Unmotivated managers may even hold back the careers of those who work under them, including you!

If your manager needs to be motivated, can you always rely on their own managers to motivate her? Or are there ways that you can you get your manager to re-engage? This article looks at strategies that you can use to motivate and energize your manager, without overstepping your bounds or causing offense.


Before you look at strategies for motivating your boss, make sure that he is aware of your concerns and any issues that you have. Sometimes, the problem could be a lack of knowledge about the issues, rather than a lack of motivation or interest.

Connecting With Unmotivated Managers

To motivate your boss, you need to know what actually provides her motivation. You can then connect these motivators to work done. Try these strategies:

  • Consider intangible motivators – We often make the mistake of thinking that rewards alone, like monetary bonuses or gift cards, are enough to keep people excited and motivated. But much of the time, true motivation comes from less tangible sources – like freedom, respect, responsibility, and trust.

    To motivate your manager, you need to find out what truly satisfies him, and what doesn't. Our articles Herzberg's Motivators and Hygiene Factors, Using Maslow's Hierarchy, and Sirota's Three Factor Theory will help you learn more about this important first step. You can then brainstorm ways of using what you learn to increase motivation.

  • Get to know her as a person – typically there are lots of opportunities to connect with your teammates on a personal level. You probably spend idle time chatting with these people and may even go for coffee and lunch together regularly. You hear about their crazy dog, their high-achieving child, their inconsiderate spouse, and their meddling mother-in-law. The chance to chat with your boss like this doesn't happen as often. Everyone wants to feel appreciated and liked, so take some time to connect with your boss and make him feel like a real part of the team.
  • Show how his work contributes to team and organizational success – It's especially easy to lose sight of this in government or nonprofit organizations. When there's no customer feedback or sales goal to drive performance, people sometimes find it difficult to focus on performance objectives.

    If you think this might be true for your manager, offer to update her on the work you're doing. Put special focus on the organization's mission and goals, and show how the manager's work affects people, including service users and customers, and you and your colleagues.

    For instance, imagine that you work for a large nonprofit and you're speaking with the manager of your finance department. This manager never sees or speaks to the people your organization helps. You could create a "people" connection by showing the manager how money that she saved helped feed an additional 2,000 families each month. You could show her pictures of some of these families, and tell a few of their personal stories.

  • Ask your managers about their long-term personal and career goals – You can use this information to help him achieve those goals in the future or help with career development right now. Even though he's senior to you, respect and compassion works both ways. You can make a difference simply by showing you care.


Show energy and enthusiasm while you're doing this – this can spread quickly from person to person.

Engaging With Stressed and "Burned Out" Managers

Many managers feel as if their work is never done. This may be because their roles are often less defined than those of lower-level staff, it could be because they have difficulty delegating, or it may be because they're trying to cope with a flood of paperwork coming down from above. This can quickly lead to uncertainty, fatigue, a lack of enthusiasm, and burnout.

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If your boss seems very stressed, it can be OK to say as much. Perhaps you can offer to help (this is a great way of getting extra experience). You can also suggest that you define or narrow the scope of work that the organization does, so that your boss has less to worry about.

You can also use your initiative to reduce the "pain" or frustration that your boss experiences. Even eliminating quite trivial annoyances can help to improve things. Similarly, managers may receive very little positive feedback – you may find that your boss's energy levels improve if you and others offer honest expressions of appreciation when these are appropriate.


While you're doing this, be careful not to seem to be ingratiating yourself with your boss, and don't resort to flattery – people are often quite good at spotting flattery, and people who are perceived as "toadies" don't win respect.

Moving On

Having said these things, there's only so much you can do to improve your boss's level of motivation. He is more powerful than you, probably has the ability to affect the course of your career, and may be annoyed if you take action that is too direct.

However, be aware that your manager's boss may be just as frustrated if your boss is "lacking dynamism."

If, however, your boss's boss is just as unmotivated or if managers are generally apathetic, then you may need to consider your position. Your department may be "going nowhere," and it may be frustrating and career-damaging to stay in such an ineffectual organization.

Key Points

Working with an unmotivated manager is alien to most professionals, but there are many reasons why a manager can become unmotivated with his, or with individual projects and tasks.

Keeping managers motivated is vitally important to the health of an organization. Find out what motivates your boss, and spend time on a one-to-one basis with her to learn how you can help with her career goals. Give feedback showing how her work contributes to the people your organization is helping, and try to engage her with your own enthusiasm.

Sometimes, lack of dynamism can result from stress, overload, and exhaustion. If this could be the cause, do what you can to help. This can be a great way of getting good experience!