Last weekend I went to a silent meditation retreat in Waynesboro, PA. The evening before we were to begin our silent meditation practice, we sat around a big table, enjoying food and getting to know each other. Once they found out what I do for work, one of them—a lawyer at the White House asked—

“How do I get my team motivated?”

Before I could answer, another woman—a manager in retail said, with a serious tone—

“How do I get them motivated when I’m not even motivated? I mean, it’s not like we’re solving world hunger. We’re just doing a job.”

In the midst of our laughter, my new lawyer friend repeated, “How can I get my team motivated when I’m not even motivated?” Given the laughter at the goofiness of the question, I held my tongue and let the question float in the air as we wound up dinner and stepped onto our meditation cushions for the duration of the weekend.

Throughout the weekend those questions commanded my creativity… How do you motivate a team when you’re not motivated?

Just as we cannot teach someone Italian unless we know Italian, we cannot motivate someone if we are not motivated. There’s not even a guarantee that our level of motivation will transfer on to others. But we stand a greater chance of transferring the energy of motivation onto others when we have some of that energy ourselves.

So then, the question becomes, how do I get and keep myself motivated? Over the past twenty years of helping leaders motivate and engage across generations I have seen the power of reconnecting to the reason we choose our industry, job, and even the team we work with. A deeper look at the answers to these questions is excellent fodder for renewed motivation.

Several years ago, I worked with the chief information officer of a government agency. At the time, she was struggling to get her team to do their work. “They’re standing around the water cooler talking about how they might lose their job. I need them to do their job!” Just nine months later, this particular division went from having the lowest engagement scores to the highest. How did she do it?

The process started with my client reconnecting to the reason she started in her industry 20+ years before. Speaking and leading from that space of passion and commitment shifted her questions from—how do I get them to do and care about their work—To—how we ensure all the departments within our organization have the information they need to accomplish the mission? And… how do I help my team succeed in their role and in their career?

By shifting her focus from proving her leadership capabilities to co-creating and over-communicating the goal, progress, and needs, her enthusiasm (and motivation) soared, and so did theirs. Rather than having to find someone to take on a project, she found team members raising their hands to lead projects and do the work necessary to succeed.

The simplicity of such clarity prompts many of us to overlook the importance of checking our own motivation and engagement levels before trying to motivate others. It’s easier for me, as an example, to try to get my wife, Yvette, to eat healthy, than it is for me to pay attention to what I am eating and why I am eating it.

In reality, Gandhi was onto something with – “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Here’s to your greatness,
Misti Burmeister

Misti Burmeister equips leaders and teams with skills and resources to empower and engage across generations. For nearly 20 years, she has facilitated communication that results in trust, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Make sure your communication is coming across the way you intend, visit