Inspiring People: 9 Behaviors and Attitudes for Motivating Your Small Business Team


In working with successful small business owners and managers, I often have the pleasure of observing people who not only provide great products and services, but who inspire and motivate the people around them.  The ability to inspire and motivate involves more than just having good people skills.  It encompasses everything from having a vision to running the business well; and it can play a vital role in contributing to a business’s success. Here are 9 behaviors and attitudes that can help motivate small business team members.

Have vision and passion.  Vision and passion are something that I consistently see in successful business owners. The attitude that you bring to work has a good chance of rubbing off on the people that you work with. If you are passionate about your products or services and have a vision for where you want to take the business, that is something that can be a great source of motivation.

Clearly communicate expectations. You can’t assume that because you have shared your vision, everyone understands your expectations. Use your vision of the business for establishing performance goals and setting standards for the quality of operations. Your expectations should be realistic and yet provide something to attain. Knowing what one is working toward, and the steps to follow to get there, gives meaningful direction.

Articulate positive intentions. One of the businesses owners that I work with starts each workday by describing for his team something positive that they are going to accomplish together rather than just giving them instructions or a to-do list. This focuses everyone’s attention on something constructive.

Have clear and efficient processes. This is important for reducing wasted time, material and resources; but it also impacts motivation.  Understanding the how and why of what is to be done removes confusion and frustration. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give your team challenges, but the challenges should have a point and not be the result of poorly thought out procedures.

Demonstrate respect. Lack of respect is easy to detect and saps commitment from the people who receive it. Some of the ways that small business owners and managers can demonstrate respect for the people that they work with are taking time to acknowledge and reward their team members’ successes, to understand the obstacles to their performance and to provide constructive strategies for overcoming them, and to listen and react thoughtfully to what their team members have to say.

Stay on top of your finances. The perception of financial mismanagement can undermine employee confidence and make employees feel like their time and energy trying to make the company successful is not well-spent.  Manage your cash flow and do your best to make sound financial decisions.

Be a model and a mentor. The successful business owners that I work with believe that it is important to model the professional standards that they want their team to exhibit and they value being able to mentor younger team members. They are willing to share their knowledge and experience.

Embrace learning and change. Great teams consist of people who continue to learn by learning from their mistakes and successes, by listening to other people’s experiences, by reading and talking about articles and books, by attending professional conferences and/or by attending classes or workshops. They look for ways to improve, adapt, create, innovate, and stay passionate.

Have fun. While some people function perfectly well in an environment that is all work and no play, that same environment can cause others to become disengaged. Allowing for a bit of fun can increase engagement and keep stress from accumulating. Just keep the fun appropriate to your workplace and don’t try to force it on anyone.

There are a number of components that going into having a successful business and running it well. In small businesses, being able to keep team members or employees motivated and moving in the direction is an important part of the overall picture.


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Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.
Washburn University
Americas SBDC Kansas