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7 Motivational Factors Employees Look for in Executive Leaders

Motivation is often defined as “getting something – or someone – moving.” One of the biggest hurdles for managers is how to effectively motivate their teams from day to day and over the long term. What factors will your employees relate to as you strive to build motivation?

The answer lies in:

Leadership Style

Appropriate leadership style depends on specific organizational goals and objectives. However, there are some general guidelines:

  • Traditional top-down leadership is becoming extinct. Today’s employees expect to speak out, be heard and have a direct influence on how they do their work. Your company may want to consider a collegial leadership style where one person may head a department but function at the same level as their co-workers. In this model, people are respected solely for their knowledge, skills and abilities.
  • Other styles include telling, selling, persuading and participating. Each can be appropriate depending on whether managers are new or experienced or whether there is ample time or urgency for task completion.

Reward Systems

As noted by Michael LeBoeuf, author of The Greatest Management Principle in the World, “what gets rewarded gets done.” People respond to incentives.

  • If you want to see more of a desired behavior, increase the rewards for it. If you want less, decrease the rewards or increase related disciplinary measures. It is that simple. Think of the basic principles applied to salespersons. Companies identify their most profitable products and increase commission percentages accordingly.

Organizational Climate

Your organizational climate and work environment determine whether or not your company is a great place to work. It is driven by management and consists largely of the way people treat each other up and down the line.

  • IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, Sr. laid out three basic company core values: excellent products, excellent customer service and respect for the individual. The third one was adamantly enforced at every level of the global organization. Treating people badly was grounds for dismissal, regardless of a person’s length of service. Not only did IBM grow into the world’s premier computer company, but people competed vigorously for jobs there, and once employed, they were among the happiest, most productive and creative people in any industry.

Work Structure

Some work – such as jobs that involve communicating, negotiating or interacting with others – is inherently motivating. Other work must be standardized and routinized. A good example is factory production management which must be constantly monitored for safety, quality and output.

  • The best organizations work to match the nature of each employee with their work. In doing so, they make jobs as interesting and enjoyable as possible.

Competition/Cooperation Balance

Almost everyone is motivated by competition to a certain extent, and virtually everyone feels satisfied when helping others make progress or achieve their goals. The greatest leadership success lies in finding a balance between competition and cooperation.

  • Design competition carefully and thoughtfully. It may be more appealing to some people than to others. For instance, losing may actually demotivate more than winning motivates.


Employees are highly motivated by leaders who continually look out for their best interests. Trust is a powerful tool that results in great opportunities to build morale and develop talent.

  • Managers should be upfront in communicating expectations and transparent in providing feedback. Rather than treating their employees like subordinates, they should seek out ways to include them in planning and decision making.


At the end of the day, happiness is the greatest of all motivators.

  • Great leaders encourage employees to step back and enjoy the journey. A person’s motivation to achieve is ultimately based on earning a living in a way that brings them sincere joy and satisfaction.
  • Leaders should never assume people are happy. They should have deliberate conversations with them and solicit their input on how to achieve satisfaction – and they should make sure that people’s happiness is genuine.

As you strive to continuously build and develop your executive leadership team, turn to the experts at BrainWorks for guidance. As the industry-leading search firm, we have expertise to find you the best talent to join your team. Contact us today to learn more about our executive search services.

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