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Rethinking 1 Key Belief That Erodes Motivation


Guest post by Susan Fowler

This post celebrates the launch of Susan Fowler’s fascinating new book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work . . . and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging.  It was originally published on 8/5/2014 at

Can you fill-in-the-blanks on these common workplace belief statements?

  • It’s not personal, it is just ________.
  • The purpose of business is to _____ _______.
  • We need to hold people ___________.
  • The only thing that really matters is _______.
  • If you cannot measure it, it _________ ________.

We have embedded these beliefs so deep in our collective psyche that I bet you do not even need to check your answers. However, just because these belief statements are common does not mean they are legitimate. In fact, holding these beliefs may be undermining your ability to effectively cultivate a motivating environment for those you lead.

In this blog we will explore the first eroding belief: “It’s not personal, it is just business.”  

Are You Kidding?

As a manager, you deliver information, feedback, or news to an individual that affects his or her work, livelihood, opportunities, status, income, mood, health, and/or well-being. How is this not personal?

On average, employees spend 75% of their waking hours connected to work—getting ready for work, getting to work, working, returning home from work, and decompressing. Oftentimes, employees spend more time interacting with coworkers than family members. Yet managers believe their actions are not personal and just business? Are you kidding?

Getting at the Root of the Belief

Trust me, what you say and do feels personal to the people you lead! Therein lies the issue. The new “F-word” in business, it seems, is Feelings. Is this because we hold a belief that expressing feelings does not belong in the workplace? If so, where did this belief come from?

Feelings are discouraged in business because managers do not have the skill to effectively deal with them. True, some employees do not self-regulate well and may let their emotions get the best of them from time-to-time. But the fear of unruly emotions is disproportionate to the occurrence and severity of emotional outbreaks.

Research shows that even though people judge their work environment both emotionally and cognitively, emotions are the primary determinant of their sense of well-being[1]. As a manager, your actions strongly influence the outcome of an individual’s appraisal that results in a sense of well-being—or not. If you do not notice, acknowledge, and deal with a person’s emotions, you may unwittingly be undermining that sense of well-being that is the vital link to a person’s intentions and behavior.

Try this for the next month: Instead of holding on to a traditional belief that potentially undermines people’s motivation, listen to your heart and acknowledge the crucial role that feelings play in work and life. Try changing that traditional belief to: “If it is business, it must be personal.”

Watch how your leadership changes as your belief changes. Then notice the positive affect your changed belief has on those you lead.


[1] Zigarmi, D., Nimon, K., Houson, D., Witt, D., & Diehl, J. (2011). A preliminary field test of an employee work passion model. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 22(2), 195-221.

Zigarmi, D., Houson, D., Witt, D., and Diehl, J. 2011. Employee Work Passion Connecting the Dots. Escondido, California. The Ken Blanchard Companies.

Susan Fowler has 30 years’ experience as a researcher, consultant, and coach in over 30 countries around the globe in the field of leadership. As an expert in the field of personal empowerment, she is the lead developer of The Ken Blanchard Company’s Optimal Motivation product line, as well as Situational Self Leadership, their best-of-class self leadership and personal empowerment program.

Susan is the bestselling co-author of three books with Ken Blanchard: Self Leadership And The One-Minute Manager, Leading At A Higher Level, and Empowerment. A catalyst for growth, Susan also authored the audio programs Overcoming Procrastination and Mentoring. She is a Senior Consulting Partner at The Ken Blanchard Companies, and a professor in the Master of Science Leadership Program at the University of San Diego.


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