Are You Motivating the Wrong Person?

This week I’m pleased to introduce Jessica Edmondson as guest writer on You’re Not the Boss of Me. Jessica is a big fan of Dale Carnegie and his ideologies about leadership. She enjoys learning from leadership best practices.  And, she believes that considering different perspectives on what good leadership means enhances our ability to be effective as leaders. I tend to agree.


When it comes time to motivate people and effectively delegate tasks, there are all kinds of approaches that work – and many that don’t. You don’t need a business management degree to understand that motivation is different for every person and that the key is to make sure you are motivating the right person in the right way. In other words, as Dale Carnegie wisely advised, “If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.” 

The most effective business manager is the one who can identify and work with individuals’ different personality types and work styles. Effective leaders who take the time to understand what motivates their team members are typically the ones who get the best results from their employees.

Sometimes, however, leaders will steer their energies in the wrong direction, either by trying to motivate the wrong person or by delegating tasks or responsibilities to the wrong person. This can happen unintentionally, the result of our common bias to favor like-minded people over those who hold opposing opinions or viewpoints.
Let’s look at a couple of common problems and examine how we can make adjustments that produce the best results without letting our biases get in the way.

Delegating to the Wrong Person

Delegating is beneficial to an organization only if it’s done strategically and with clear objectives. Leaders who delegate well not only provide their employees with key opportunities to improve their skills and demonstrate their competence, but also they give themselves the time they need to better perform their own tasks.

But trouble can arise as a result of delegating to the wrong person. It’s critical for leaders to take the time to get to know their team members so they can match strengths and skills with the jobs that need to be completed. If a task is assigned to someone simply because this person should be able do it, this can affect the productivity of the whole organization, potentially putting careers of both managers and team members on the line.

Unconsciously Practicing Favoritism

Supervisors and workers alike tend to gravitate toward others who are similar to them, whether it’s because they share a common work style or have matching opinions about a business’ objectives and vision. People do this outside of work, as well, perhaps because they think it’s easier and keeps them inside their comfort zone.

In the workplace, a manager may assign the same duties to the same people over and over again, simply because “that’s the way it’s done” or because this person did the same task well once and can be counted on to do it well in the future. This type of favoritism, however, will likely discourage the bypassed employees, who may want to try their hand at something different.

As with misplaced delegation, favoritism can breed resentment and jealousy, and lower morale among the team members. While it may not be a comfortable exercise, it is important for supervisors to examine whether or not they are favoring certain employees simply because they are easier to motivate or because they may be easier to connect with than other workers.

Ultimately, motivating employees and team members is about creating opportunities for them to demonstrate and enhance their skills through work that is meaningful, intentional and clearly defined. By addressing biases, leaders allow themselves to know how, why and when to motivate the right people for the right work.

What do you think?

Jessica Edmondson contributes on Management and Online Business Degrees for the University Alliance, a division of Bisk Education, Inc. 



Filed under Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Management, motivating & Inspiring

7 responses to “Are You Motivating the Wrong Person?

  1. Great post! I agree with you on the importance of not always picking the same person for a particular type of task. This is common in software development. It leads to silos of knowledge and hence leads to serious problems when that person is on holiday or leaves the company.

    In agile development this is deliberately avoided. When a team member finishes a task they begin the next task on the list, regardless of whether they have worked on that part of the system before.

    • Jessica Edmondson

      Thanks for your comment, Doug! I’m familiar with software development and also agree that picking the same person for a certain task will hinder the team goals in the long run.

  2. agreed… It’s so vital that we seek out the best way to motivate each member of the team and help them discover their gifts.

    • Jessica Edmondson

      Thanks for your comment, Karin! The idea of knowing your team’s strengths and weaknesses before delegating tasks to them is a basic and vital concept in team dynamics, but I often see team leads delegating things to the same person over and over again. What happens when that person leaves? The whole team will suffer (on the same lines of what Doug was saying).

  3. Pingback: Are You Motivating the Wrong Person? | digitalNow |

  4. Alex Jones

    People going wrong in my view is due to a failure to share a common vision. If the vision is there the goals will follow the vision, and the leader thus has the compass point in which to guide their team.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Good point, Alex. Often we talk about vision but fail to make the connection between vision, purpose and the actions we take to move closer to them.

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