• Shayne Leslie

3 ways to motivate your CEO without using money (and 3 ways to totally deflate them)

Being paid a fair and market amount for the role is always a good start in motivating your CEO, or any other staff member for that matter. Boards often ask me how else they can keep their CEO motivated when the business doesn’t have the capacity to pay extra cash from the bottom-line.


The simple thank-you is massively underrated.

A text message of gratitude, thanks, or ‘well-done’. An email recognising ordinary and extraordinary efforts. Public thanks in a formal setting, or informally in front of others.

Research has shown that this type of reward has a massive impact, and a residual impact long after the text, email or support is offered. The effect of a thank-you can last for days, sometimes much longer.

There is no limit to the deposits on this one. In fact, the more you invest, the higher the return.


Introductions and recommendations builds networks, as well as increasing access to resources and information.

When you say, “I’d like to introduce you to this person in my network…” you’re sending the message… “I value your knowledge and intellect, and would like to invite you into my larger community.”

This works best when the introduction is to a person who is higher up the corporate food-chain, or an expert in their field, or connected to a passion of the CEO’s. You’re affirming to your CEO that they have value to contribute, and increase their identity that they are an important person.

Further, encouraging your CEO to attend industry and other events will provide opportunities for them to build their own networks.

If your CEO doesn’t like going to those events (and I’ve met a few who avoid them like the plague!), work to find another way to build networks.

Recognition and Discourse

Read the CEO’s reports, and show that you have read them by asking intelligent and relevant questions. Particularly the board reports.

I haven’t yet met a CEO who enjoys creating an agenda and putting together the board papers. Neither have I met a board where every member reads the board papers, and understands everything they have read.

How to Deflate your CEO

The opposite of all these points is a perfect way to demotivate your CEO.

No thanks

Never saying thank you, ignoring extraordinary efforts… or even taking for granted the CEO’s efforts in the ordinary slug of each day is a sure way to demotivate your CEO.

You can double the demotivation effect by withdrawing on an empty account. Criticism, even constructive, will sap the motivation of the most resilient CEO if you have made no deposits in the ‘Bank of Thanks’.

Closed off or pointless introductions

Not allowing your CEO to build networks will create a motivational vacuum.

If you know someone (or brag you know someone) then don’t facilitate an introduction or meeting, you’re saying to the CEO, “You’re not good enough to be part of my community.”

Worse, though, is introducing your CEO to pointless connections. Maybe to your friend who can add no value to your CEO’s work or life and acts as a drain, or to someone you’re just trying to fob off!

Here, you’re saying, “I haven’t taken the time to understand your needs and priorities as a professional and as a human,” and in the fobbing off you’re saying, “I’m important. You’re not. You take care of this clown.”


Don’t read the board papers. Simple. This will 100% demotivate your CEO instantly. Double the demotivation by sitting in the board room pretending that you have read them.

Make it clear that the papers, which no one likes to write, have been ignored.

Here, you’re saying to your CEO, “I get that you did all this work putting these folders and papers together for me, but I don’t value your effort.”

Your CEO will say, "If you can't be bothered to read them, I'm not going to waste time in preparing them for you." Game over. That is a loss of motivation right there.

Payment in Deeds

What we learn here is that, while salary is important, motivating our CEO is intrinsically linked to our behaviour.

If you want to demotivate your CEO, start with these;

  1. Constantly criticise, especially in public and behind the CEO’s back.

  2. Brag about valuable connections, but never offer an introduction. Frown upon appropriate industry networking.

  3. Don’t read the board papers or other proposals. Ask questions that demonstrate your myopic agenda.

To motivate your CEO without cash, all you need do is;

  1. Say thanks. A lot. In many ways.

  2. Open valuable connections into your network.

  3. Read their work. Even if it is boring. Ask insightful questions.

It’s all up to you to learn how. Applied Mandatory Director Training and Leadership Training is available for Boards and CEOs through Integrated Governance.

Listen: The psychology of motivation

What motivates you – is it just about getting paid or are there other factors at work? Psychologist Dan Ariely discusses a series of fascinating experiments he's conducted that help explain how, why and what motivates us in the workplace and what destroys it.


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