As a leader,
one of your key roles is to help
transform confusing complexity
into elegant and powerful simplicity.

Arguably the most complex component of a leader’s world is the diverse mix of people they lead.

Organizational cultures can be a minefield of complex and intricate relationships. You already know how even a small handful of intimate relationships at home can be challenging to manage. At work, the complexity of relationship dynamics multiplies exponentially. Add to that the pressures of stress, speed, ego, career advancement, the ever shifting landscape of office politics, perceived status, financial security and working with people who you didn’t necessarily choose to have in your life – and you’ve got a pretty complex situation to manage.

 As a leader, you need to do everything you can to add clarity, inspiration, encouragement and well defined purpose to this wildly flavored soup of relationships and often conflicting goals.

Rewards – Seeking the simple solution first

So, yes, people are complicated. But we are also quite simple in that we typically do more of what we are rewarded for and do less of those things that yield no rewards or have negative consequences.

It is through this particular simplicity of human nature that a purposeful leader can realize their best leverage for shaping a stellar team.

People are primarily motivated
by what makes them feel safe,
happy and positively acknowledged.

If you have children, you understand this simple concept quite well and you’re probably clear with your children about just what types of behaviors will garner rewards and which will meet with disfavor.

If you don’t have children, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you yourself were once a child and that you recognize this simple pattern of reward and denial of reward from your own youth.

Here’s the thing, that innate human behavior of seeking reward doesn’t change all that much as we become adults. It’s a lifelong survival mechanism that we do things that bring pleasure and avoid things that bring pain.

Successful leaders create
a positive culture of rewards.

When it comes to leading a team or an organization, it’s far more effective to focus primarily on rewards and less on punitive or disciplinary actions. When working within a positive environment of appreciation and rewards, people embody a larger and more vitally alive sense of themselves. A feeling of confidence supports them in being more adventurous and courageous. Someone who feels really good about themselves is much more inspired to take on serious challenges with enhanced creativity and verve.

The general rule I advise is a 90/10
Reward / Discipline ratio.

For the most part you don’t want to punish people to get your point across. It will become very clear to everyone when you shower praise and rewards upon those who are meeting your clearly stated expectations while others who aren’t stepping up find themselves standing still.

“True leaders do not create followers,
they create other leaders.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Of course you ideally want everyone to be advancing, growing, learning and excelling. But the truth is that even as you help people grow, you will also have to manage the right people in and out of your team as a reflection of what you consider to be A team behaviors.

Be Proactive – Set the North Star
to guide your team.

A less than creative leader waits until undesirable behavior is exhibited and then works to correct the unwanted behavior. Far better for everyone on your team to be quite clear about what you expect, what you will reward and what you will not tolerate.

Rather than allowing those whom you lead to drift aimlessly in a sea of assumption, take the opportunity to sit down with your team and set a very clear understanding of what behaviors, actions and attitudes you want your team to align with.  Then the team will have clear targets to aim for and clear obstacles to avoid. Mis-steps are all too common when making decisions in a fast paced environment while managing complex inter-personal relationships and dynamic projects.

Your delivery of a vibrant and compelling north star vision will keep your team on course as they navigate the often turbulent environment of organizational pressures and politics.

Be consistent with your words and actions.

Be consistent with your rewards. Just like a parent who says one thing but whose behavior sends a very different message, your team will align themselves more with your actions than your words.

Be Clear First
Unto Yourself.

First you must be clear for yourself about what you reward. If one of your team members leads a successful campaign but in the process damages relationships and leaves the team feeling battered and fractured, you need to know if simply achieving a goal represents a team behavior that you will reward. Do you simply reward a successful goal outcome? Or does the manner in which the goal is achieved make a difference?

What might rewards look like?

  • A pat on the back
  • A promotion
  • Giving more responsibility and visibility
  • Company perks
  • A juicy assignment
  • More authority
  • A public acknowledgement
  • A raise
  • A private conversation acknowledging your appreciation of their efforts and conveying your confidence in their abilities.
  • A seat at the table where critical decisions are made.

Small can be huge.

A wealth of small but heartfelt acknowledgments of a team member’s positive team support behaviors can quickly add up and have a huge impact. It doesn’t always have to be a major reward. We all like a pat on the back and a nod of wholehearted and sincere approval. And when you find yourself consistently appreciating someone’s work and team play, then it’s time to offer a larger and more substantial reward.

Take Action and Get a Clear
Message Out There

Some of the best sessions I facilitate are when I give the team leader the homework assignment of preparing a clear statement of expectations for their team and then helping them to deliver those expectations with clarity and candor.

Set aside time to have a Q & A session with your team where you lay out your expectations of team behavior and your team gets to ask clarifying questions and also are able to let you know what types of motivations work for them.

Give your team members a very clear North Star for which to aim amidst the stormy seas of organizational navigation.

Just a few examples of North Star behaviors you might reward:

  • Keeping the importance of building strong and trusting relationships as a core component of decision making processes.
  • Building relationships is more important than singular outcomes that weaken team dynamics.
  • Taking responsibility. Being a part of the solution. Not blaming others, working with others.
  • There is no “THEM”, there is only US.
  • Creating bridges of connection where connections are weak or non-existent.
  • Collaborating creatively across departments and disciplines.
  • Seeking to understand before assuming negative intent.
  • Asking frequent and thoughtful questions before proclaiming definitive answers.
  • Supporting the best in others and taking the time to be a mentor.
  • Seeing problems as opportunities for creative engagement rather than issues that drag the team down.

“You can tell whether a man is clever
by his answers.

You can tell whether a man is wise
by his questions.”

~ Egyptian Author, Naguib Mahfouz


Look to your own mentors. What are the gems that you learned from them?

What gems are you clearly imparting to your team?

Take the time and have the conversation with your team.

Then keep that core conversation vibrantly alive as you and your team blaze a purposeful path forward guided by a clear and brilliant North Star of powerful team actions and behaviors.