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Commentary | Aug. 6, 2012

The Art of Motivation

By Master Sgt. Amy E. Markum 718th Intelligence Squadron

It is often very easy to supervise someone who is doing what is expected, but what about those troops who have wandered off the path?

Webster's Dictionary defines motivation as, "the instance of providing another with a reason to act in a certain way; inducement; incentive."

There are essentially five reasons why people do not meet expectations of performance. They either do not know what to do, or are not equipped to accomplish what is being asked of them. They might lack the confidence to accomplish the task, or not understand why a particular job needs to be done. Finally, there are some who simply lack any desire to accomplish assigned responsibilities.

Effective motivation depends on figuring out the reason behind a person's lack of performance. If he does not know how to complete an assignment or project, educate him on its basic requirements. A key part of leadership is not only leading Airmen in completing the mission, but also ensuring that your Airmen are equipped with the necessary skills for the work and responsibility you will require of them.

You have a chance to hone your coaching skills and encourage troops who are skeptical of their abilities to do what you ask of them. Supervision becomes a bit tougher when leading that Airman who wants to know why she is being assigned a given task. This is often a trust issue, and as responsible supervisors, we need our Airmen to buy into the vision of their commanders and supervisors in order to move forward effectively; when they gain greater vision, their support is strengthened.

A supervisor's greatest challenge is an Airman who knows what to do and how to do it, but does not have the motivation, or believes there is a better way. At this point, an effective supervisor will down with the Airman and communicate openly. Using positive incentives for obtaining cooperation, rather than negative reinforcement, is often the best choice.

So, what really motivates people? Robert Lebow, chairman of Heroic Environments, commissioned a large study to discover the answer. He found that the following were the top eight characteristics of workplaces that reported optimum levels of motivation among their personnel:

· Uncompromising honesty is expected and enforced
· Being trusted by associates
· The opportunity to mentor and be mentored unselfishly
· An environment fostering and welcoming new ideas, regardless of origin
· Being allowed to take risks for the organization's sake
· Receiving credit when due and in a timely manner
· Ethical behavior of personnel
· An environment in which people put the interests of others, and the good of the organization, before their own

As a whole, the U.S. Air Force has an organizational culture which personifies these characteristics. However, we must continually ask ourselves if we are doing all that we can to encourage others.
As leaders, we need to honestly appraise ourselves. Are we really mentoring our personnel, or are we just going through the motions? Do we provide immediate, constructive feedback to others regarding their performance? Are we consistently providing our Airmen with both the tools and skill they need to be excellent in all they do? It is also important to remember that recognizing the hard work of others does not cost us much more than a few minutes, but it can make a world of difference in someone's day.

Next time you encounter a troop not performing up to standards, find out the underlying factors and address the cause. It is easy to supervise someone who is already motivated, but one of the most challenging and thrilling experiences in life is to develop uninspired individuals into extraordinary Airmen.