Motivational leadership: One handshake at a time

You’ve got a team of players that work with you and/or report to you. You might see them everyday and spend more waking hours with them than with your own family. But how well do you really know them and what motivates each of them as individual people?

On your team, you might have two, three, ten, twenty, thirty or more players, and each of them is looking to you, their leader, for one or more of support, recognition, information, inspiration, and motivation. If you’ve done any reading in the area of human resources, you probably know about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how a person’s various foundational needs need to be met before they can move to higher orders of motivation, growth, and development. Just in case you haven’t read up on it lately, head over here to refresh your grey matter.

Still with us?  Good!

Leader, meet your team

You know you have a team and that the team is made up of individuals… that’s great. But like we asked earlier, do you know each of your team players well enough to motivate and recognize them on the individual level… to do so in a way that is unique to the person, and only that person?

If you don’t know them to that level, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad leader. It means you’re a human being. Just suppose, though, what if you actually got to the point of individual recognition, motivation, and inspiration within the larger framework of the team?

If you guessed that amazing results start to be achieved and the level of engagement and motivation for your entire team skyrockets, you’re right!

Handshakes for the team

For Stephen Garnett, Assistant Coach at NCAA Div. III Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington (USA), he’s taken the premise of individualized recognition and motivation for the team to the next level. Forget just knowing the players’ names, he has a unique handshake ritual with each of his players when they hit the court for a game. The coolest part? Each player’s handshake will stay with them for their entire career at Whitman College, and each freshman who joins the team gets a new handshake.

It was captured on video and has been making the rounds of the world wide web. Take a look at the team in action.

Does it work? Well, according to Coach Garnett, the team made a run at the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Div. III’s version of March Madness, one of the winning-est seasons ever for the team. 

“This year, it was challenge because we had seven freshmen,” Garnett said. “When I first started doing it two years ago, there were three guys I was doing it with. During the course of the season, players would come up and say, ‘I want a handshake.’ Then, it got to think of a different handshake for each one to do. (Source)

What’s your team’s ritual?

Sure, a handshake ritual won’t make sense in many situations or for many teams. What you as a leader can do is work on inspiring, recognizing, and motivating each of your team’s members in a way that is individual and meaningful but not taking away any focus from the team and its larger goals.

Maybe you already have your version of the ritual that you do with your team members. Why not share it with your fellow readers? Leave a comment at the bottom of this blog post, or let us know by sending a note to

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