In this Mucker Growth Session, CEO coach Glenn Gow discusses improving your team's performance and preventing burnout.

PDF of Glenn's presentation slides

Right Now, Things are Hard

On any given day, being a CEO and founder is hard. Add in economic turbulence and uncertainty and it all gets even harder.  Everything takes longer and it's tiring. If that is wearing you down as the CEO, imagine how your employees feel.  How do you improve people's performance when they think the going is just tougher than they expected. They need to be motivated to perform. And that's part of your role as CEO: motivating your team.


The hardest job of the CEO is human behavior change. People don't like to change. People fear change. They're worried they'll be worse off after the change. They worry they may fail. They worry they'll have to push beyond their current limiting beliefs. In order to motivate that change, you need to leverage one or more of the factors that motivate people to change.

Five Factors Motivate People (Employees) to Change:

  1. Money
  2. Autonomy
  3. Mastery
  4. Purpose / belonging
  5. Acknowledgements

Let's look at each one and what you can do as a CEO to enable your employees to perform at the highest level.


Employee compensation is one way to motivate your team/workforce:

  1. Fair Compensation: paying employees at least the median compensation helps in ensuring that they feel fairly treated. Offering additional incentives like equity and bonuses can further enhance this perception. However, be cautions against frequently increasing pay solely out of fear of losing employees, as it might not be cost-effective.
  2. Motivating Salespeople with Money: Unlike other roles where money might not be the primary motivator, sales roles often attract individuals who are highly motivated by monetary rewards. For such positions, it is beneficial for a company to actively seek out those who are driven by financial gains, as this aligns with the goals of increasing sales and company revenue.
  3. Framing Compensation: Another CEO uses the strategy of "framing" to discuss compensation, focusing on the potential future value of equity and overall compensation rather than just the base salary. This approach helps employees visualize a larger potential payout, which can be more motivating than considering their base salary alone.
  4. Rewarding High Performers: It's important to recognize and compensate top performers generously and proactively. Use higher  compensation as a retention tool to keep valuable employees from moving to competitors. This could involve spot bonuses, raises, or equity grants.

Overall, these strategies reflect a nuanced understanding of how different types of compensation can be used strategically to motivate employees, align their goals with those of the company, and ensure retention of top talent.


Autonomy can also be a key motivator in the workplace if you effectively empower employees through clear goals and delegation:

  1. Clarity on Key Results: Many CEOs use OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) or similar management frameworks to provide clear, measurable objectives for their employees. This clarity allows employees to understand exactly what is expected of them, setting the stage for autonomous work.
  2. Encouraging Autonomy: Instead of micromanaging how tasks should be completed, the advised approach is to define what needs to be done and allow employees the freedom to achieve these results in their own way. This not only empowers employees but also often leads to them exceeding expectations with innovative solutions.
  3. Investment in Planning: Successful CEOs invest time in defining key results and planning processes to ensure employees have a viable plan to achieve their objectives. Once the plan is in place, they step back to allow employees to execute on their own, promoting autonomy and responsibility.
  4. Mastering Delegation: Building a competent leadership team is crucial, as it enhances the effectiveness of delegation. A CEO must provide clear instructions, ensure understanding through active listening, and clarify task priorities. This structured approach to delegation helps ensure that tasks are understood and executed properly, preventing oversight and unmet expectations.
  5. Autonomy Through Delegation: By following these practices, CEOs can give employees the autonomy they need to perform their tasks effectively. This involves clear communication, setting expectations, and providing the necessary context for prioritization.

Fostering an environment where employees are clear on what needs to be achieved and are given the freedom to accomplish these goals in ways that might surpass initial expectations. This approach not only motivates employees through autonomy but also drives efficiency and innovation within the organization.


Mastery is another key motivator for employees, emphasizing personal development and skill acquisition as central to employee engagement and retention:

  1. Employee Self-Interest: Employees primarily care about their personal and career development, often more than the company's mission or goals. This insight should guide how employers engage with their staff.
  2. Promoting Mastery: Employers should create opportunities for employees to achieve mastery in their roles. This can be through informal training, challenging assignments, and constant feedback, rather than formal, time-consuming training programs.
  3. Informal Training: Training should be integrated into everyday interactions, such as one-on-ones, where continuous, small lessons help employees improve incrementally. This approach not only benefits the company by enhancing skills but also aids employees in their personal development.
  4. Challenging Yet Achievable Goals: Effective leaders set ambitious yet attainable targets, ensuring employees are stretched but not overwhelmed. This balance helps employees grow and move toward mastery in their roles.
  5. Belief in Possibility: Ensuring that employees believe in the feasibility of the challenges presented to them fosters a sense of achievable mastery. When employees face difficult but possible tasks, they are more likely to improve their skills and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Overall, the approach to motivating through mastery involves understanding employees' focus on their own growth, offering opportunities to develop skills within the work environment, and setting challenges that are demanding yet within the employees' capabilities to achieve.

Purpose / Belonging

Purpose or belonging can be strong motivators, emphasizing the significance of feeling connected to something greater than oneself within a professional context:

  1. Company Purpose: Many companies have a vision or purpose that transcends profit-making, such as contributions to healthcare, microfinance, sustainability, or climate technology. Leaders in these organizations often reinforce the impactful nature of the work, motivating employees by reminding them of the greater good they contribute to, such as saving lives.
  2. Belonging to a Group: For companies whose missions may not directly involve world-changing objectives, the focus shifts to cultivating a sense of belonging or tribe. The primal human instinct to be part of a group, rooted in survival and social inclusion, can be leveraged to enhance employee engagement and loyalty.
  3. Creating Tribes in the Workplace: Understanding the importance of tribal instincts, some leaders actively foster a sense of community by setting structural norms, such as requiring in-office attendance several days a week or organizing quarterly all-hands meetings. These strategies help reinforce team cohesion and a sense of collective identity.

Whether through a compelling company mission or creating a supportive community, fostering a sense of purpose and belonging is crucial for motivating employees and enhancing their commitment to the organization.


Acknowledgment can be a crucial motivator in the workplace, emphasizing the importance of providing positive feedback to employees:

  1. Craving for Acknowledgment: Employees have a strong desire for positive feedback, yet it is often underutilized in many organizations. One CEO noted that no one complains about receiving too much positive feedback, indicating that people always appreciate more acknowledgment.
  2. Public Acknowledgment Practices: Using all-hands meetings as a platform, leaders can publicly acknowledge individual contributions, which serves multiple purposes. It not only makes the recognized employees feel valued but also sets a clear example of the behaviors and contributions that the organization values. Additionally, it motivates others to strive for such recognition.
  3. Benefits of Public Acknowledgments: Public acknowledgments teach desirable behaviors, boost the morale of those acknowledged, and encourage others to engage in behaviors that might earn them similar recognition. This dynamic fosters a positive workplace culture where employees are motivated to contribute effectively.
  4. Timeliness and Specificity in Feedback: Feedback should be timely and specific to be effective. Waiting too long to acknowledge someone's efforts can diminish the impact of the feedback. Specific details about what exactly was appreciated make the feedback more meaningful and informative, helping others understand exactly what actions are valued.

Overall, acknowledgment as a motivator is powerful because it meets fundamental human needs for appreciation and understanding of what constitutes valued behavior within an organization. This not only enhances individual performance but also cultivates a culture of recognition and achievement.

1:1 Meetings

An additional effective practice is to effectively shift 1:1 meetings from mere status updates to more productive training and knowledge transfer sessions:

  1. Shift the Mentality: Approach one-on-ones not just as a reporting session but as an opportunity for problem-solving, knowledge transfer, and personal development. The goal is to help the employee think and solve problems more like a CEO, considering the broader impacts of their actions across the organization.
  2. Focus on Mastery and Holistic Thinking: Encourage employees to think about the whole organization, not just their specific role. Discuss broader business implications and strategic thinking to broaden their perspective.
  3. Clarify Expectations and Outcomes: Clearly communicate what outcomes you expect, and guide employees on how to achieve these results without dictating each step. This encourages independence and initiative.
  4. Encourage Creative Problem-Solving: If employees don’t meet expectations, address it directly by specifying what’s missing and how they can improve. Incorporate these insights into their personal development plans to guide their growth.
  5. Immediate and Specific Feedback: Provide feedback immediately after observing both positive behaviors and areas for improvement. Specificity in feedback helps employees understand what they did well and what they need to work on.
  6. Advocate for Recognition and Rewards: If you're in a managerial role but not at the executive level, advocate for your team members by proposing bonuses, raises, or promotions to higher management based on their performance. Make a compelling case for why they deserve these rewards.

By focusing on these strategies, 1:1 meetings can evolve into powerful coaching sessions that contribute to employee development and overall business success.

Founder Burnout

Recognizing and addressing founder burnout is critical, not just for the sustainability of your business, but for your personal well-being. Here are a few key strategies for managing it effectively:

  1. Recognize the Signs: Acknowledge the emotional, physical, and behavioral symptoms of burnout. These might include feelings of exhaustion, cynicism, chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, decreased productivity, or increased conflicts with your team.
  2. Evaluate Your Workload: Constant overwork without adequate breaks can lead to burnout. Assess your workload and identify tasks that can be delegated or postponed to ensure you're not consistently overburdened.
  3. Set Clear Boundaries: Protect your personal time by setting and enforcing clear boundaries between work and personal life. This could mean turning off electronic devices at a certain time each evening or dedicating weekends to family and rest.
  4. Seek Professional Help: Don't hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional if you're struggling to cope. Therapy can provide strategies to manage stress and avoid burnout.
  5. Build a Support Network: Surround yourself with supportive peers, mentors, and friends who understand the pressures of being a founder. Regular interactions with this network can provide emotional support and practical advice.
  6. Prioritize Self-Care: Incorporate regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and healthy eating into your routine. Taking care of your physical health is a critical component of preventing burnout.
  7. Take Breaks and Vacations: Regular breaks throughout the day can improve immediate productivity and focus, while longer breaks or vacations help to restore energy and reduce the risk of long-term burnout.
  8. Reflect on Your Purpose: Reconnect with the reasons you started your business. Remembering your original motivations can reignite passion and help mitigate feelings of disillusionment.

By taking these steps, you can maintain your productivity and enthusiasm for your work while safeguarding your health and personal relationships.

Preventing Burnout

Equally as important as managing burnout is preventing it altogether. Here are five areas to address to help prevent burnout in the first place:

  1. Manage Expectations
  2. Prioritize
  3. Push Back
  4. Get Support
  5. Put Your Oxygen Mask on First

Manage Expectations

For managing board expectations, several best practices include:

  • Providing estimates in ranges rather than specific numbers to avoid setting overly precise expectations that could be seen as failures if not met exactly. For instance, forecasting a range for annual recurring revenue (ARR) instead of a single figure helps manage board expectations more effectively.
  • Engaging in discussions about expectations early, especially if there are discrepancies in what is considered an acceptable performance level.
  • Communicating potential shortfalls as soon as they are anticipated, rather than waiting, to prevent surprises and manage board reactions more effectively.

It's critical to set realistic expectations and foster a more understanding and responsive environment between executives and their boards.


Using Stephen Covey's four quadrants can be helpful in setting priorities. A CEO initially felt the need to immediately respond to every communication from board members, assuming these were urgent and important tasks. However, upon reevaluation and direct communication with the board, it was discovered that many inquiries were neither urgent nor critically important. This realization allowed the CEO to prioritize more effectively, concentrating on truly significant issues and either delegating or eliminating less critical tasks. This approach not only improved personal management but also enhanced overall decision-making and efficiency at the leadership level.

Push back

It's important to push back and delegate effectively as a CEO. Initially, a CEO might provide answers directly to employee queries to ensure efficiency. However, this approach isn't scalable, so a CEO should encourage employees to come up with their own solutions and make recommendations. While potentially met with initial resistance, this strategy can lead to employees developing better problem-solving skills and increasingly making decisions independently. Eventually, employees should stop seeking approval for every decision. This shift not only prevents CEO burnout but also fosters team growth and scalability by empowering employees to handle more responsibilities independently.

Get Support

Being CEO is inherently lonely. CEOs often find themselves isolated, unable to share doubts and concerns with their board, employees, or even close personal relationships. CEOs should seek support through various means such as hiring a CEO coach, forming groups with other CEOs, participating in online forums, or connecting with friends who understand the business landscape. This support network is crucial for sharing fears and concerns and receiving advice on making difficult decisions.

Put Your Oxygen Mask on First

The key takeaway from this entire discussion is the vital importance of self-care for CEOs. The phrase "put your oxygen mask on first" is used to emphasize that looking after oneself is crucial before attending to others, including a company. You as CEO should practice regular self-care through various activities, like meditation retreats, physical activity, outside hobbies, etc. These activities help you avoid burnout and maintain peak performance levels. Additionally, you might also consider an emerging resource—an AI CEO coach that can provide 24/7 support for CEOs to seek advice and answers, emphasizing the accessibility and practicality of continuous personal and professional support.


Thanks to Glenn Gow for sharing this information.


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