November 19, 2014

Seven ways to motivate yourself when your manager doesn't

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This story was updated on March 15, 2018.

    Not everyone can have an inspiring boss. That's why it is important for workers to be able to motivate themselves, Julie Moscow writes for the Harvard Business Review.

    Moscow reached out to experts and compiled seven tips for keeping up your engagement at work and pursuing your professional goals when your manager isn't an effective leader.

      1. Recognize that you are in control. Heidi Grant Halvorson, a motivational psychologist, says, "employees have more control than they realize over their ability to build and sustain motivation in the workplace." The key is to maintain a sense of progress at work. Employees who remain focused on their goals can have "a more fulfilling, more motivated approach to work no matter who your manager is," Halvorson says.

    2. Find out what motivates you. Without external leadership from a manager, it is important to understand what drives you internally so you can stay motivated. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle, say motivation comes from three things: A passion for the work itself, a desire for recognition, and the sense that our work is impactful and connects us to others. Employees should focus on the elements that make their work meaningful to them.  

    3. Set independent goals. Feeling like you are making progress at work means being able to look at the big picture. Experts say that workers should create individual career plans to help them track projects and results and create goals for their own development.

    4. Be prepared for setbacks. Not sticking to your plans can be discouraging, so Halvorson suggests you use "if-then" planning to adapt to challenges. For example, she says, "If I haven’t finished the presentation by the end of the day on Wednesday, then I will come in early on Thursday to finish up while it's quiet.”  By planning for setbacks at the start, it is easier to overcome challenges.

      5. Stay on top of your progress.  Often times, the mark of a poor manager is not providing feedback, but "seeking feedback is important," says Monique Valcour, professor of management at the EDHEC Business School in France.  "Even if we sometimes hear things we'd rather not," it is important workers receive feedback to know how to improve their performance, she says. Moscow writes that workers should "ask people who will be candid with you and whose opinions you trust" or perform a rigorous self-evaluation.

      6. Expand your network. Looking for support in a broader network beyond your immediate manager can increase your confidence and open up future professional opportunities. "Find mentors within your own company to give guidance and perspective, and, if possible, develop an in-house peer group designed to help all of you move forward," Moscow writes.  Valcour also notes that online networking can be a powerful tool for expanding your circle of contacts.

      7. Learn. By shifting focus from being "perfect" to learning and improving, you set yourself up for success.  Halvorson says, "When it comes to achievement, attitude and persistence are often more important than innate abilities." If you are committed to learning from your mistakes, progress will come naturally (Moscow, Harvard Business Review, 11/14).

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