By Ron Carucci, Harvard Business Review

When I speak to large groups about leadership, one question I often ask is, “How many of you have ever received a compliment from your boss that actually offended you?” Without exception, more than two-thirds of the people in the room raise their hands. When I probe further on what people found offensive about their boss’s praise, the most common responses I hear are “It wasn’t sincere” and “They didn’t know what they were talking about.”

When leaders look like they are just applying some “motivational technique” they read about, people see right through the superficial, obligatory effort. It looks like they are checking off the “I motivated someone today” box. Motivation is not something you do to people. People ultimately choose to be motivated — when to give their best, go the extra mile, and offer radical ideas. The only thing leaders can do is shape the conditions under which others do, or don’t, choose to be motivated. But the final choice is theirs.

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