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Why I don’t give motivational speeches to my employees—and neither should you

April 25, 2017

Today, we’re welcoming guest author Jim Estill. Jim is a Canadian entrepreneur and businessman who is the CEO of Danby Appliances. His efforts to resettle 58 Syrian families in Guelph, a small city west of Toronto, were featured recently on the CBS program Sunday Morning. This October, Jim will join us at Linkage’s Global Institute for Leadership Development® to share his story and what inspires him to lead.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily.” —Zig Ziglar, author and motivational speaker

Raise your hand if you’ve been to an event in the past year where a presenter inspired you.

Maybe it wasn’t a live event; maybe you read a book or an article or watched a video on the internet that struck a chord.

What did you do immediately after that burst of inspiration?

What did you do one month later? If you’re like most people, including myself, you didn’t do much of anything—Ziglar was right. However, I don’t believe the solution to fleeting motivation is more motivation.

My goal when I do a speaking event is to have people make a long-term change—something they will still be doing a year later.

If inspiration is going to last, it must come from within. But how many leaders do you know who are deliberately building environments through which they can foster this kind of intrinsic motivation?

At Danby Appliances, this is something I’ve been working on since I joined as CEO. Danby is a manufacturer and distributor of compact appliances (think: bar fridges, wine coolers, freezers, etc.). If Danby sells 10,000 more bar fridges this month, my sales team will be happy—maybe even a little inspired—but the inspiration won’t last, and they’ll be onto the next sales target.

This is the reality of most goals we pursue in life. The question you need to ask as a leader is not, “How do I keep inspiring my team?” It’s, “How do I get my team fully engaged, so they’re itching to move on to the next target?”

One way is to write down and share your company’s “Why.”

I recommend reading Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why, or watching his TED Talk. When your company has a clear reason for existing and your employees know that they’re working toward something bigger than themselves, you’ll find less need for motivational memos and stirring quarterly speeches, because your team will already be inspired.

At Danby, our “Why” revolves around one of my personal maxims: Do the right thing.

Whether we’re helping a customer who called our service department, or negotiating a deal with one of our many retail partners…at Danby, we always try to do the right thing.

This is how I encourage my staff to do their jobs.

When employees are struck with a dilemma, I’ve removed the choice they have to make by giving them permission to simply do what is right to them. It’s paradoxical, but it works.

Without having to think about the right thing to do and knowing you’re simply going to do it, you give your employees the autonomy they need to build self-confidence—a key to fully engaged employees.

Actions speak louder than words

When GILD Program Director Rachael Marangu asked if I would write a blog post on inspirational leadership for Linkage, I knew why she was asking. Since November 2015, I’ve had several people tell me my effort in bringing 58 Syrian refugee families to my hometown of Guelph, Ontario in Canada, has inspired them.

So when it became public knowledge that I was sponsoring Syrian refugees and I was approaching the task like a business (read more about that here), not many people doubted my ability to get the job done. I don’t say this to brag; I say it to illustrate why advertising your strengths is important as a leader.

Without my successful track record, my colleagues and hundreds of volunteers might not have fully committed to my cause, giving me their time, energy and money. Their engagement would be lower simply because they lacked confidence in my ability to deliver on the vision I promised.

Why choose to give so much time and money to people I’ve never met?

That’s just it—it wasn’t a choice at all. The answer circles back to my personal maxim: Do the right thing. Actions speak louder than words—I could not say we do the right thing and ignore what was happening.

My staff were inspired by what I did. I did not do it for that reason, but that was one result. People are inspired by seeing their leaders walking the talk.

Share with us: What is your organization’s why? How do you empower your employees to live this each and every day?

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