“Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Knowing how and when to provide motivation to others is an art and a science. For some, the ability to motivate others comes easily, smoothly. For others, it’s a learned skill. Whatever it is for you, we can all agree motivating others is one of the most important qualities—whether you’re a supervisor, parent, spouse or friend. And in the workplace, it defines leadership. One of the key roles of a leader is to inspire and engage teams to do their best.

Sometimes, we hear the word “motivation” and we think of a loud, impassioned speech in front of a group of people. Or sweat running down a face and fists in the air. Or a roomful of whoop and holler, followed by clapping. But, more often, people motivate others in their everyday, small-but-significant actions.

As you get fully immersed into 2018, here are some ways your everyday actions can motivate individuals and teams—quietly yet powerfully. We’ve broken it down for you through famous (or not-so-famous) quotes.

By helping others identify and overcome barriers

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” ~ Muhammad Ali

While Ali might have had a specific thought in mind when he said this, we can interpret this quote a few ways. One, he speaks of external factors (mountains) as being less of a barrier than the small, internal one (the small pebble in a shoe). This gets at the idea that what’s within us can often be more of a challenge than any external issues we face.

Another way to look at this quote is that the little stuff (whether internal or external) sometimes rattles you more than one large barrier.

Regardless of how you look at the quote, good leaders help their team members overcome the little challenges on a daily basis—or help them cope if the challenges are unsolvable at least for the time being. Identifying what issues are gravity is important. An item that is gravity is basically something that can’t be influenced, something you have no control over. You want your teams to spend their energy and time on business challenges they can influence instead.

By being consistent in your words and actions

“Speak softly and carry a big stick.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Ever wonder where this quote came from? We did. Roosevelt first coined it in a letter he wrote to Henry L. Sprague in January 1900. It became more mainstream after Roosevelt quoted it in a speech at the Minnesota State Fair in 1901. The quote gets at the concept of being mild in tone yet firm in consequences. Translated in Roosevelt’s time, it meant to negotiate gently but have the backing of the military if things go south.

Similarly, your teams need to know you are a reasonable person while understanding there are consequences for poor performance or behavior. And those consequences must be known in advance to have maximum impact.

By staying humble

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” ~ Mark Twain

A common frustration in today’s workplaces is about how to work with millennials. Millennials have been typecast as entitled and self-absorbed (can you say “selfie”?). We bring this topic up because some might say that some millennials lack humility. Again, we recognize that this assertion is based on stereotypes only, and that many millennials do not fit this mold.

Humility is a good quality for a leader. According to a study mentioned in Fast Company, managers who exhibit traits of humility—such as seeking feedback and focusing on the needs of others—resulted in better employee engagement and job performance. And what leader doesn’t want that?

So, you might be wondering what humility in the workplace looks likes or mean. According to this same article, just a couple are being open to others’ ideas and suggestions, and being okay to admit to mistakes. We’ll have more on this notion of failure in business in an upcoming post!

By demonstrating a reliable work ethic and solid execution

You will never plough a field if you only turn it over in your mind.” ~ Irish Proverb

This quote struck a chord with us. How many of us have met people who have great ideas and talk and talk and talk—but never DO? How many of us would admit we’re like this or were at some point in our careers? A good leader can share a vision and work with others to execute a plan.

By demonstrating a willingness to change

“Very often, a change of self is needed more than a change of scene.” ~ A.C. Benson

Change is our passion at IronStrike. We work with companies and organizations that are often on the cusp of some type of change, whether that’s a merger or acquisition, a new way of doing business, or a new brand. Employees often look to their leadership to walk the walk and talk the talk. If a company is making a change, you can bet employees are watching the bosses to see if they toe the line.

Being able to change, grow or transform a company or yourself is one of the hardest things. It takes time, patience and grit. It’s often not very pretty. And it takes humility, another topic on this list, because it takes a lot to give up what you might have initiated and/or cheerleaded for in the past.

But once transformed, it can mean bigger, better and bolder things. If you’re in a leadership position during a time of high-change within your organization, remember that the change begins with you.

By being a good listener

“I’ve learned about the poetry and the wisdom and the grace that can be found in the words of people all around us when we simply take the time to listen.” ~ Dave Isay

Elsewhere on our blog, we’ve touched on the importance of active listening. Active listening means attentively listening to another party and responding in a manner that increases mutual understanding. You can sharpen your active listening skills many ways, including by avoiding distractions (notably technology) and not interrupting.

Giving your employees the gift of time is probably one of the most important things you can do symbolically as a leader. We recently heard from a client and business leader about a recent walk-about he did within his business unit. It had been a while since he had done that because of year-end deadlines, shifting priorities and more. After his day walking around and chatting with and listening to employees, the building was buzzing a little louder. He got feedback from his first line that people were really delighted to see him. It reminded him that being present, asking questions and really listening was hugely important and symbolic. This is a guy that works in the same quarter square mile as most of his employees, but they just don’t get a chance to bend his ear often.

As the quote says, listen for others’ wisdom.

By sticking up for what you believe in

“Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that.” ~ Ellen DeGeneres

And admit it: you probably got an immediate mental image of Dory in your head once you finished reading that quote! In all seriousness, though, it’s so important that leaders stand up for their people and go to bat for them when it really matters. Yet, when the collective evidence shows that a potentially unpopular decision needs to be made for the good of all, you must be willing to move onto that new path.

By being a continual learner

“Learning never exhausts the mind.” ~ Leonardo Da Vinci

Much like children watch what their parents do, so goes employees when it comes to leadership. If mom is a voracious reader, then her children will likely grow up to become curious readers as well. We never run out of things to learn. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, leaders must scan the world for signals of change, and be able to react instantaneously. The article discusses the importance of being able to connect the dots between people and ideas when others see no possible connection. This “searchlight intelligence” results in an informed perspective to help you anticipate what could come next.


We hope these quotes inspire you. Regardless of the position you hold in your organization, you can lead by example every day. You don’t need to make a grand speech or host another town hall meeting. Show up, do good work, stay nimble and humble, and learn, learn, learn.

For more inspirational quotes, check out 101 Motivational Quotes (apparently 100 was just not enough!). And reach out to IronStrike if you’d like to learn more about how you can motivate and engage employees through strong internal communications.