Motivate Your Team to Thrive – Without Compromising Your Brand

 In Collaboration, Mastery, Science, Work Flow


What drives us? If you’re solo, you have to learn how to motivate your best self day after day -and how not to bullsh*t yourself. (I am fixated on this question, obviously, in the area of solo creative flow and creative momentum.)

But if you have support staff, lead a team, or train others using your material or brand as I do, you definitely must live in this question. It’s this question of motivating others I’m curious about today, and I also will depart from my normal mode of writing and give you a “behind-the-scenes” peak into one of my businesses.

Part of the question about what drives us and others has to do with other questions about freedom:

How much freedom do you give the people on your staff or team, or among your trainees and franchisees? How much latitude do you give team members to make their own decisions or assume projects within your organization? How much leeway do you give franchisees to build upon your brand?

One theory of management and leadership goes something like this: Articulate your vision and values to your workers or team. Be sure they buy into it. For workers who interface with customers or clients, give them a script to follow.

Similarly, for entrepreneurs: Give franchisees strict guidelines bound by a legal contract. A customer’s experience in a TGIF or a Starbuck’s should be the same whether that TGIF or Starbuck’s is in New York’s Union Square or in McKinney, Texas.

In either case, allow no variance. A customer service rep or an assistant should not improvise or make decisions on her own. A franchisee should not add his own flavor to your brand. Otherwise, you risk brand confusion if not dilution.

It’s a popular theory that’s shaped corporate culture, franchising philosophy, and customer service for about twenty years. I’ve found merit, for instance, in Michael Gerber’s articulation of it in his E-Myth material.

Clarity, consistency, correctness – these are chief implicit corporate values.

But are these values the best ones to guide you as a leader who must motivate others, whether you’re CEO of a corporation, COO of your solo-S-Corp, the founder of your own training program, or the employer of a small support staff?

After all, it’s not faceless corporations you want to model your creative enterprise after – especially when several corporations are learning from and emulating small business practices these days.

My own experience and research in social psychology, business psychology, and creativity psychology consistently challenges parts of this franchise wisdom.


When you invest your heart and ingenuity into developing your brand – even if you come into developing your brand through the creative back door as I have – you feel you have a lot at stake when you hire someone or train someone to carry out that brand. How do you let that brand grow with a little love, trust, and wonder instead of so much fear?

I’ve had my own pulls and tugs with the “franchise” theory above. For a dozen years, I’ve built my brands. Take the Yoga As Muse brand. It started with passion and grew through through offering programs at venues as diverse as the Kripalu Centre, university MFA programs and writer’s conferences, Nova Scotia’s Tatamagouche Centre, Greece’s Sykros Writer’s Lab, and elsewhere; then through a book (published originally by Penguin Putnam and the revised/updated edition by Monkfish – and again as a writer I wrote the book because I had ideas to share and because I love to write NOT because I was thinking of a brand at the time); and through private mentoring and public speaking. It’s the brand that took this poet and essayist into the realm of once-reluctant entrepreneurship.

In other words, there’s a lot of energy and emotion invested in raising this baby.

It’s one thing to describe to others what exactly is this system that trains creatives how to integrate yogic tools and tenets into their creative process and creative work flow. It’s another thing to train other people to do what I do with the level of excellence my inner boss has come to expect of myself.

How do you train other people to do what you do well – and still carry on your brand’s integrity?

This tug between giving freedom and maintaining consistency, if not control, over a brand keeps coming up with what is now the Yoga As Muse TRIBE of Facilitators. And I keep learning the same lessons that counter the old school franchise theory outlined above.

When I developed the Yoga As Muse TRIBE Facilitator Training, I consulted with my lawyers in Albany, specialists in intellectual property, and I consulted with a couple of trusted colleagues, fellow creatives and entrepreneurs. We decided upon a collective model not as restrictive as a franchise model but also not so loose as to diminish the brand.

Once the first training was over, I thought I had figured out the right balance.

After all, the results were overwhelmingly positive: Trainees understood and lived out the collective vision. They also got immersed in marrow-deep training that integrates creativity training with yoga training with research in neuroscience and social psychology. Plus they came away with hands-on experience working with clear, readily usable program templates that they, if licensed, can amend, bend, and twist with their signature style and for their niche tribes. Soon, they started pitching programs for and coaching their respective niches.

The Tribe becomes empowered, in short, with sufficient information and resources to make their own decisions about developing their own platforms while still drawing upon the Yoga As Muse brand and the TRIBE synergy.

The take-aways have many:

  • Give your team a compelling vision imbued with values they share.
  • Empower them with information, skills, and tools that will help their innate strengths flourish.
  • Give them opportunities to test things out for themselves and to emulate what you do, not simply imitate.
  • Provide opportunities for them to inspire and support one another. Team SYNERGY works.

But then another scenario challenged me.


This question of autonomy and control raised its curvy head again when two facilitators proposed a project: to publish an anthology of facilitators’ writings using the Yoga As Muse ™ name.

Alarms inside me went off: Do they know how labor-intensive such a project is to do exceptionally well? Will they produce an exceptional product that lives up to the brand? Will the intensity of the project alienate members of the tribe? How will the project be funded?

I confess: A part of me instantly wanted to take control. Another part of me instantly wanted to squash the idea because of the potential complications.

Fortunately, I listened to another part of me that let go while still leading from the side and from behind. The past 15 months have brought its complications and difficult decisions, and I was challenged with concerns mixed with business and with art (a mixed challenge I like), but I continuously checked in with how I intended to lead in a less heretofore typically controlling fashion.

The results:
A spectacular product – in content and design – that makes every member of the Yoga As Muse TRIBE rightfully proud.

The anthology is called Stories We Keep: A Yoga As Muse Anthology (Writings by the YAM Tribe with an Introduction by Jeffrey Davis) (The YAM Press 2012).

(It’s not released yet, by the way. You can peak at the cover below.)

TRIBE member Dawn Curtis, playwright and essayist and studio owner, headed up the project and, thus, has amassed a wealth of useful expertise in e-publishing options that will add to her arsenal as a writing coach – not to mention she’s amassed a wealth of confidence in assuming the helm for future such projects.

And I’ve confirmed and re-learned two key tenets for effective team and group leadership that actually are consistent with the latest research in social psychology, business research, and motivation.


1. Let team members go off-script. In the January-February 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review, Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath (“Creating Sustainable Performance”) corroborate the idea that workers given some autonomy in making decisions thrive.

Consultant Shep Hyken, author of the NYT best-seller The Amazement Revolution, gives numerous examples of corporations from FedEx to Atlanta’s The Fudgery that let their employees go “off-script” when engaging customers.

Give your team autonomy within a collective vision and shared values – that’s a tenet that drives us in the Yoga As Muse tribe.

Caveat: Giving autonomy doesn’t mean you abnegate leadership. You still have to monitor and check in. You have to be sure excellence is offered and that everyone embodies the collective vision. Giving employees or team members autonomy also means you need to give them the right information on which to base their decisions.

Woe to the solo-preneur who hires an assistant and lets her take over without any accountability. (He who has made painful mistakes in “hiring-and-forgetting-and-firing” says.)

  • How are you empowering your team, trainers, or franchisees with autonomous decision-making?

2. We thrive by learning. Again, Spretizer and Porath’s research confirms that those employees who continuously learn thrive significantly more than those workers who do not. Psychologist Carol Dweck’s work in motivation also confirms that college students driven by the desire to learn and to master – versus to perform and to please – ultimately feel more fulfilled with their lives in the long run.

In the case of the Yoga As Muse anthology, not only did Dawn get to employ her existing organizational skills in a new context; she also gained a slew of information about publishing choices that excites her. The other TRIBE members also are learning how better to build their platforms as creative enterprisers. Within the TRIBE, I also offer additional webinar courses in entrepreneurship, and we’re starting to implement a “continuing ed” component to our bi-monthly members’ tele-meetings.

There are so many other take-aways that have to do with compassion and passion and communication, but these two tenets remain true: Autonomy and Learning. How delightfully human.

  • How are you providing learning opportunities for your team, trainers, or franchisees?


By the way, here’s a peak at the cover of Stories We Keep: A Yoga As Muse Anthology. It’s, well, stunning, inside and out.

It comes out March 1. Stay tuned. Special pre-order bundles will be announced in another week.

And send me a note with YAM in the subject box if you’d like to learn how to become a YAMbassador and help us spread the word about this exceptional anthology (for anyone who loves good stories, savors good food, and relishes a good practice of embodied creativity).



What challenges have you had in motivating employees, assistants, trainees, or franchisees? What’s been your version of this tug between giving freedom while leading? What wisdom or insight can you give us?

See you in the woods,

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