How to Create a Motivational Environment as a Leader

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How to Create a Motivational Environment as a Leader

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People want to go to a work in an environment which is positive, fun, energetic, and filled with people that they enjoy working with. It is up to the leader to build this environment (which does not happen by accident but is created – by you).

Here are some specific elements as a leader for helping to build, create, and maintain a motivational environment.

Hire Well

Hiring is one of the most overlooked areas for creating and preserving a motivational environment. Many people think that the environment of the workplace is the building, the desk, the computers, or other equipment. The leader creates an environment, and that people are the environment.

Whenever I visit an office or organization where the morale is low and there’s a general lack of energy, I find the main reason for that is because the leader of the group has not given concentration and effort to hiring well. Your goal as a leader should be to hire world class employees who want to work for a world class organization. Your company is only as good as your last hire.

Think about it. When your team members see personable and smart employees arriving, they are making judgments about the quality of the organization. If you hire someone who is intelligent, energetic, positive, and competent, you are now setting the pace for the culture and environment of the organization. When you do the opposite and hire someone who is utterly incompetent and does not fit the culture of the organization, it becomes a drain on the morale and energy of the group.

Be Selective

As mentioned earlier, the employees are the environment. We need to be remarkably selective in the choices that we make for future employees of the organization. Be incredibly discerning and try to eliminate the candidate in as many ways as possible. If you cannot eliminate the applicant in all the ways that you try, then you now know you have a strong candidate. Ask yourself, “Will this person not only do an excellent job in their role, but will they add to the energy and morale of our team?” If there’s any doubt as to the answer to that question, then you need to seriously reconsider making that hire.

Fire Well

Now at this point, you may be wondering if you read the above title correctly. Does it really say fire well? Yes, it does! I see organizations across the world with leaders who have made a hiring mistake and are too afraid to fire that person or to admit that they made a mistake. It is just as bad to keep a hiring mistake as it is to make a hiring mistake. When you have made the determination that someone just is not working out, and you have given them many chances to improve in their performance, then that person simply must go.

I am sure that there have been many times in your career when you were not in a leader role, when you and your teammates said to one another things like, “Why are they keeping him around?” or, “Why don’t they do something about this person who doesn’t do their work?” All of us have had occasions in the workplace when we have quietly celebrated the departure of a difficult employee. Everyone did the “ding dong, the witch is dead” dance. Make sure that your team is not saying these things about one of your employees.

When someone isn’t working out, have the guts to make the change. Do you need to be fair? Yes. Do you need to build a paper trail so that when the person is terminated there is a legal background and documentation as to the lack of performance? Yes. But after all that has been done, you need to make a move quickly to let the person go. You may want to consult with your Human Resources department, but make sure that you pull the trigger sooner rather than later. Most leaders wait way too long. That action will allow you to create and maintain a positive motivational environment.


Orientation is also a misunderstood concept amongst many folks in leadership positions. Most people think of orientation as being a one-day event that the employee attends during their first week of hire. That is not orientation. That is a class. In that class, they learn some information about the company, the policies, the procedures, and the benefits. As a leader, however, you should not allow this to be your employees’ first and only orientation. Here are some additional thoughts and approaches for making sure that their orientation is more successful.

  1. Orientation Should Not Start When the Person Is Hired: it should start in the interviewing process particularly in the third interview, when expectations are covered and laid out and we seek to get agreement to those expectations. Orientation should also continue on their first day when they meet with you and receive (before the orientation class) a written job description and a review of the expectations. Both items should be in writing because we know that people only hear what they want to hear. By putting it in writing, we avoid ambiguity and confusion.
  2. Meet And Review: Once someone has attended their orientation class, it should be up to the leader of that person to sit down and review what they learned from the class. Review and reinforce key information.
  3. Distribute The Calendar: A leader should meet with the new employee and give them a specific calendar – an eight-week orientation plan. The purpose of this weekly plan is to develop and implement specific processes for that employee to follow in their first eight weeks. It helps them to learn the company, the organization, and the culture. Keep in mind, when an employee starts, they have accepted the job, but it does not necessarily mean that they have decided to stay. We need to make sure that when someone starts, the process used for their orientation makes a positive impression and is packaged to reinforce the decision that they made to join the organization was a solid one.
  4. The Magic of Day One: One thing that you might want to consider is the elements that are present in the employee’s first week experience. In many cases, when employees start at a company, and their desk isn’t ready, their computer isn’t there, (and sometimes, it’s not even ordered yet). Make sure that your team gets the space ready for a new employee, so that they feel welcome. See that the new hire gets a tour of the entire facility, gets introduced to the team, and starts to develop a good feeling about the organization. Here are some other nice touches that I have seen done for new team members: a card signed by the entire team welcoming them aboard, a nice paper banner strung across their office space saying, “welcome to our company”, or even a small vase of flowers or a box of candy are some small gestures saying that this is their special first day.
  5. Ambassadors: You may even want to consider finding folks within the organization that have high energy levels, lots of enthusiasm and great personalities and make them ambassadors. The ambassador’s role is to be an integral part of a new team member’s first few weeks on the job and to help them with any situation. They are used to make them feel welcome and to be their first mentor in the organization, to help them to succeed in their first few weeks.

Ultimately, a new employee will have to be responsible for their own success. Still, leaders should be held accountable for making sure that they get the proper orientation, which leads to a positive inspired employee.

Job Descriptions

I am frequently surprised by people’s responses (or lack thereof) when I ask them what they do. In many cases, I find that employees don’t really have a clear, well-articulated description of what they do, so they’re a little confused themselves. In some organizations, the job changes every week. Let’s face it most employees do not get a proper orientation (as outlined above), their job descriptions are, at best, muddy. In many companies, when I ask if there are written job descriptions, I either get people looking embarrassed or people staring at the floor and muttering, “Well, we used to,” or, “We have them, but they need to be updated.” Every organization needs to have a written job description for every job in writing which describes the specific task roles and responsibilities of the job. How does this contribute to creating a motivational environment? Well, I believe when people have clarity about their roles, then they are less likely to be confused, frustrated, or feel undervalued. This is because someone has taken the time and energy to explain to them what their job is both verbally and in writing. I also find that people who have job descriptions tend to perform better. When they perform better, they feel better, and when they feel better, there’s a more positive environment.

Don’t Tolerate Negativity

One of the ways to ensure that you do not have a negative environment is to not tolerate negativity. Negative thinking creates negative behaviors. Let’s talk about negative behaviors. I’m taken aback when this kind of behavior is tolerated in a corporation. Keep in mind that when you’re in a leadership role and tolerate negative behavior, then negative behavior becomes the new policy. I once ordered food in a fast-food restaurant and was treated very rudely by the person who took my order. When I asked for the manager at the curbside to talk about the discourteous employee, she defended the employee’s behavior and was rude to me herself. No one would want to work at that restaurant. When you observe negative behaviors, you must correct, coach, and advise those folks that it is not appropriate, and, more importantly, the reasons why it is not appropriate. In many cases, I’ve seen people who were not deliberately being negative and did not realize the impact their behavior had on others. Another area that I see is being tolerant of negative talk. These are some of the things that I hear on a regular basis in offices across the world:

  • “Well, that will never work”
  • “It’s a stupid idea”
  • “Why would we do that?”
  • “We tried that before, and it did not work.”
  • “Did you hear about the ______? (followed by a negative statement)
  • “Nope”
  • “Not at all”
  • “No way”
  • “What’s the downside?”

What people don’t realize is that negative self-talk leads to a negative environment and responses. It is the opposite of the thinking big. Negative talk eventually leads to thinking small. It leads to minimized thinking, reduced expectations, minimized results, and cynicism. If you don’t think that this is true, then simply observe a gifted coach take over a sports team that is losing. Yes, they certainly do adjust the talent. But what I find, in most cases, is that the new coach brings a new attitude and way of thinking – away from the negative talk and into a positive mindset. The new coach (and often the administration) allows the team to now think in a positive way, because the new coach has created, yes, a positive motivational environment.

Negative Actions

You should make it clear to your team that you will not tolerate negative actions. Negative actions simply mean things like arguing, complaining, gnashing of teeth, belittling, or criticizing, along with any other negative action which is going to create frustration and/or anger. What we as leaders want to do is try to turn the negative actions into positive actions. For example, instead of allowing people to complain, insist that they’re no longer allowed to complain but to point out obstacles to productivity and to have options on how they should be solved. Complaining does nothing but bringing up obstacles with solutions has an action orientation which is incredibly positive. One thought: when you as a leader start to take these specific and tangible actions to correct negative behavior over time, you will see a change in the overall environment.

Lack of Team Respect

One other rule which I think is critically important is to make sure that everyone understands that a lack of respect for any team member can and will not be tolerated (I learned this from a great leader I reported to at one time). This means that no team members will talk in a negative way about other team members and that everyone will treat each other with a mutual level of respect. Now clearly, we don’t have to love one another, and quite frankly we can’t make people like one another. But what we can do is insist that they treat each other with respect and civility at work, and that this expectation is not optional. I once did an exercise during a training class when I asked the team members to get in a circle and we did an exercise. The way this exercise worked is that each person was required to say something positive about each team member. We would start, for example, with Sue. I would then ask each team member to say one positive thing about Sue. Of course, when Sue was having compliments thrown in her general direction, she was not allowed to deny them and/or comment on them. She was just to sit and take the positive comment. What struck me as remarkable was that many people in the circle exercise found this exercise to be quite moving (some people had tears in their eyes) and a great boost to their self-esteem. This always tells me that team members are not giving each other enough positive feedback, and if more positive feedback was given, then people would have more mutual respect.

Sure, I’ve had employees who have said, “It’s not my job to have a good relationship with everyone. My job is to come to work and do the job.” My response to that train of thought is this: being a team member is an integral part of the work because we must get the work done together as a team. Therefore, producing something is only half of the job. The other half of the job is being a productive team member.

Be aSpark Plug

Now you’re saying, “I have to go from leadership to being an auto mechanic?” No! What I am saying is that it’s up to you to create excitement, inspiration, and energy within your department. One of the best ways of doing that is to make sure that you walk around in your department in a very casual fashion. On occasion, pop into people’s offices for no reason, sit down and have a chat to find out how they’re doing. If for some reason they’re discouraged or moody, it’s up to you to try to help them get in a more positive mindset. That is part of being a spark plug as a leader. Make sure that you communicate on a regular basis with every team member as we mentioned earlier, both one-on-one and in group meetings. When you’re having these discussions, you’ll have the opportunity to influence, inspire, energize, and coach. This is a wonderful way to build and maintain positive morale. Make sure that you are positive yourself. If you are positive and energetic enough, you’ll find in general that your people will model your behavior.

It all up to you, as leader, it is up to you to be the architect and build a motivational environment.

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