I recently attended a leadership development session about leading high performing teams. During the session, the facilitator put up a slide with a wide variety of famous people known for being the best in their areas of expertise. The photos ranged from Michael Jordan to Mother Theresa to Brené Brown to Johnny Cash. His point was that great teams are a combination of people who each bring their unique strengths to the team. Pointing to the slide again, the facilitator asked, “And what do our employees expect from us?”
In one of those moments where the words that pop into your head are simultaneously spoken aloud, I said, “They expect us to be all of these.” The facilitator nodded in agreement.
In the moment, I understood how that kind of expectation is unfair and unrealistic, yet totally true. When we strive to do our very best and set an unattainable goal of perfection, it’s as disappointing for us as it is for our team. For GenX managers who might be in mid-level positions who are feeling this pressure from below in addition to the daily pressures from above, it can be difficult to stay motivated. However, there are simple actions that tap into those GenX superpowers that can keep Generation X managers’ heads (and hearts) in the game:
- Control what you can control. We former latchkey kids were raised to be pretty self-sufficient, and as a generation we continue to value autonomy. Many workplace frustrations stem from the fact that there are many organizational decisions, policies and practices that are simply out of our control. Instead of dwelling on what can’t be controlled, spend time on what can be. Is there a new initiative that your team can take from start to finish? Can a process be improved? Enjoy autonomy where you have it.
- Challenge yourself. That same GenX self-motivation has allowed us to build new skills throughout our careers, as we’ve had to keep pace with new technology, evolving industries and shifting market forces. Feeling stuck? Challenge yourself to learn something new or improve an existing skill. Rising to your own challenge—whether it’s directly work-related or not—is energizing. That energy has the potential to re-inspire you at work.
- Remember your mission. When there are so many demands on your team’s time, skills and resources, it can be easy to lose sight of your original mission. Take a minute to get back to that. Pragmatic GenX managers can assess which of those competing demands help them deliver on their mission and which of those deviate. For the demands that digress, is there a way to get them to align?
- Appreciate your team. Often, things move so quickly at work that there is little time to acknowledge team successes and appreciate the skills and attributes of individual team members. Don’t overlook this important step. Appreciation is a fundamental psychological need, and it’s been shown that employees who feel appreciated by their supervisor perform at a higher level. Give your people their props, and have gratitude for the unique strengths they bring to the table.
- Get inspired. GenX as a generation has very strong internal motivation, but a little external motivation now and again only helps. Find out what inspires you. Go for a walk outside. Watch a TED talk. For me, listening to music is my favorite form of inspiration. The right music can power me through a workout, allow me to focus on detail-oriented work or simply improve my mood.
I acknowledge here that these are short-term solutions that might allow you to hit the ‘reset’ button on your actions and attitude—both things that give energy to your team members’ actions and attitudes. Staying motivated long term takes some deeper soul-searching as to what drives you and sustains you. Is it a sense of purpose? Making an impact? Rewards and recognition? Is there proof that you are getting those things in your current role?
Motivation ebbs and flows. Just as it’s unreasonable to embody every type of leadership style that your team expects, it’s impossible to stay 100 percent motivated 100 percent of the time. But for GenX managers in need of a motivation boost, these might rev the engine.
Readers: What do you do to stay motivated, short-term and long-term? Leave your answers in the comments below.
The Management in Action series covers a variety of practical management topics that can help GenX managers strengthen their leadership skills. Got a topic you’d like to see explored? Leave a suggestion in the comments.