Startup CEO coach Dave Kashen on why CEOs should attend Women 2.0 partner event LEVERAGE and learn how to keep their teams motivated. 

By Dave Kashen (Startup CEO Coach)

You think it’s about motivating people…

Startup CEOs and executives often ask me: “How do I motivate my team members?: “How do I get them to want to stay late into the night and power through their weekends?” The common theory is that there’s something you need to do to amp up the motivation of your team members.

…but really it’s about NOT de-motivating people.

You’re asking the wrong question. Most of the people who work in startups are already pretty darn motivated. The set of achievements they have amassed by the time you hire them required a tremendous amount of self-discipline, effort and focus – a ton of intrinsic motivation. The real question you should be asking is:

“How do I stop de-motivating my team members?”

If you understand what de-motivates people…

Neuroscience researcher David Rock notes that as social creatures, our brains are wired for maximizing social rewards and minimizing social threats. In essence, social needs are treated in the brain in much the same way as the need for food and water. Rock cites five specific domains of social needs, which he conveniently refers to as the SCARF model:

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness

…and how startup execs accidentally de-motivate their teams…

Almost all of the startup leaders I’ve interacted with as a leadership coach and trainer inadvertently diminish their team members’ sense of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness nearly everyday. Here are some of the common ways that startup execs accidentally threaten and de-motivate their team members:


  • Give feedback poorly
  • Assign a task to someone that is below their ability without addressing it
  • Praise someone (else) without clear merit


  • Fail to let people know what’s expected of them
  • Change goals or priorities without explanation
  • Hide key information like how much money is left in the bank


  • Micro-manage
  • Under-manage (people need the right level of autonomy, more is not always better)
  • Fail to provide sufficient context (vision, goals, priorities, values, interdependencies, etc.) for people to make good decisions


  • Keep too much distance between themselves and team members to keep things ‘professional’
  • Keep meetings too efficient by not creating time for chit chat
  • Under-value social time and trying to get people to ‘stay focused’


  • Play favorites by allocating disproportionate time, attention or resources to certain people
  • Use titles and roles carelessly without having clear qualifications for each role/title
  • Make ad hoc personnel-related decisions instead of having policies (comp, vacation, maternity/paternity leave, promotions, etc.)

…then you can stop accidentally de-motivating your team.

Which ones of these do you do? What else do you do without realizing it that might increase the threat response and reduce motivation in your team members?  For the next two weeks, keep the SCARF model in mind, notice when people’s social safety is threatened and be conscious of when you may be undermining team member’s social needs. You’ll be surprised to learn how you’ve been unknowingly de-motivating people – and have the opportunity to course correct and unleash people’s natural motivation.

If you want to learn more and become an awesome startup CEO…

The natural instincts that enable you to be a great entrepreneur aren’t the same as the skills, knowledge and self-reflection it takes to be a great leader and scale your team and culture after you’ve found product-market fit. Your startup can only grow to be as successful as you have the bandwidth to scale it.

If you’re a startup CEO focused on scaling your business, I invite you to apply to attend LEVERAGE on November 8 – 9 in San Francisco. LEVERAGE is a two-day leadership workshop for an intimate group of 20 amazing startup CEOs, designed to rapidly accelerate your ability to scale your organization and culture. The event brings together world class leadership coaches and trainers with some of the best mentors in Silicon Valley to address your specific challenges and enable you to immediately apply the learning and personal growth to your business – so things will be different when you go back to work on Monday. To learn more, click here.

I’m happy we are working with Women 2.0 and look forward to applications from this vibrant network.

03d4905About the writer: Dave is founder of Unleashed, the premier leadership development firm for startups. He has spent the last five years coaching CEOs and executive teams of the most promising, fast-growing, venture-funded technology startups, including Facebook, Zynga, Indiegogo, Kiva, Klout, Flixster, Rypple, Wikia, CrowdFlower, Pocket Gems, and many others.