October 2014
By Heidrun Wehmeyer and Jutta Witzel

Image: nyul/ 123rf.com

The focus of Heidrun Wehmeyer on management, conflict consulting and development of virtual international team results from her management experience in West and East Europe, the Middle East and Africa in an international group. She developed and was responsible for training concepts for training and further education.


The focus of Jutta Witzel on intercultural competence, language management, project work and collaboration in virtual teams results from here long years of work as translator, specialized journalist, project manager, trainer and lead of virtual teams in non-profit and profit organizations.




Appreciate and motivate

Studies by pollsters and neurobiologists emphasize a greater binding with the company and more creative performance, when a manager appreciates his employees. The attitude of a manager and how he communicates are crucial.

Attitudes, values and convictions greatly influence leadership behaviour. The position assumed by a manager towards an employee is conveyed by his behaviour and type of communication. When you as a manager think that an employee cannot achieve a certain performance, it is expressed through your selection of words and body language. The employee gets the feeling that he is not valued, e.g. through your tone, your body language (lack of attention) or through sentences with suggestive words such as “Did you again forget that…?”

Your values and attitude are crucial. “If you as a manager believe that people can go beyond themselves, you lend your team wings to fly high. Encourage your team members according to their qualities and potential,” say Gerald Hüther, Neurobiologist, and Sebastian Purps, Coach [1]. Gerald Hüther calls this leadership behaviour “Supportive Leadership”.

Use enthusiasm

Modern brain research rules that the brain of every individual can still change until old age. When our brain is able to send out neuroplastic messengers, we can learn another new language even at the age of 70. The messengers are released especially when something touches us emotionally and we can drum up enthusiasm about something. Enthusiasm is therefore fodder for the brain.

According to Gerald Hüther, it would be helpful if you were able to repeatedly fire enthusiasm in yourself and others as a supportive leader. The following quote is apt in this case: “Wenn Du ein Schiff bauen willst, dann trommle nicht Männer zusammen, um Holz zu beschaffen, Aufgaben zu vergeben und die Arbeit einzuteilen, sondern lehre die Männer die Sehnsucht nach dem weiten, endlosen Meer. “ [If you want to build a ship, do not round men up together to obtain wood, assign tasks and divide the work. Rather teach the men to yearn for the unfathomable, endless sea] [2]

Appreciation promotes potential

The German weekly “Die Zeit” [Time] cited a Gallup study recently on the emotional connection of employees in German companies [3]. Marco Nink, Senior Best Practice Consultant at Gallup describes the present mood barometer: “Many things are better at the workplace, but everything is far from perfect yet. Employees are less de-motivated, but leadership behavior does not inspire them to do their best by a long shot yet.“

How can motivation be achieved? According to Marko Nink, truly paying attention is more important than financial incentives: “When employees feel that they are taken seriously, can work independently and with certain room for maneuvering, they are creative.”

Recognize capability

What does that mean for you as manager? – Your own attitude and ability to motivate your team and create enthusiasm for a goal are pivotal. Other elements are appreciative communication and also the chance for the employees to be allowed to learn from their errors. You can transfer partial responsibility to your team members. You thus give your employees appreciation in the form of trust. Your task would then be to coordinate the transferred tasks. Enthusiasm sponsors creativity as well as new methods and team building. For this, you have to know your colleagues and discover their potential.

How can you achieve this? By finding out what makes your colleagues “tick” for instance, or what talent they have. There are many psychometric models, one of which is by Katharine Briggs and Isabell Myers (Myers-Briggs-Type indicator), another by Bjørn Z. Ekelund. The models classify people according to whether they are disposed to be emotionally reactive, creative or diplomatic, whether they are introverts or extroverts or are interested primarily in facts and figures.

The diversity icebreaker by Bjørn Z. Ekelund differentiates three basic types of thinking and communication as “blue”, “red” and “green”. Since each has a preferred style of communication, it would be beneficial to know the communication pattern of your colleagues and to approach them accordingly. This would mean, stating figures and details when you are speaking with a person with a preference for “blue” for example. Refer to table “Properties of Communication Styles” below.



Properties of Communication Styles

Business consultant Bjørn Z. Ekelund from Human Factors has developed three basic types of thinking and communication with the following properties based on his experience:

  • Blue: careful, specific, fact-oriented, logical, practical, exact, systematic
  • Red: casual, uncomplicated, emotional, empathetic, requires harmony, sensitive, outgoing, warm-hearted
  • Green: creative, impatient, independent, philosophical, provocative, visionary

Every person can use all three styles in principle, but usually has a preference. They are also influenced by the workplace and the professional and company culture to some extent. People from the same profession and having the same employer and similar tasks can therefore develop similar preferences. The matrix red, green, blue can be used to address the basic types in an appropriate way respectively.
With people having a preference for blue you can put arguments concerning benefits in the foreground, state figures and details, create calculations and list facts and examples, proceed in a structured manner.
To motivate people with a preference for red: be personal, verbalize, conduct harmonious discussions, stress on social consequences and the sense of community, show trust and appreciation.
You can best reach people with a preference for green when you give them time for reflection and set high targets. Emphasize the higher values, the vision, the overall context and the connections between the different points during your discussions. Be open when these employees present creative, innovative ideas.

Source: Diversity Icebreaker, Personal Workbook, Human Factors AS.


Experience more by listening

An effective method of finding out more about your employees and discovering their potential is to listen attentively. Active hearing involves devoting attention to your communication partner – without first thinking of your own response, without using your own filters on what you are listening to or interpreting it through preconceived opinions. There are different ways in which you can show your attentiveness to your communication partner: attentive body language, nodding in agreement, interjections and further questions. When you integrate what you have heard in the flow of communication and develop it further, you strengthen the relationship with colleagues.

If you see changes, ask

Listening attentively involves perceiving moods and nuances, e.g.: “You sound angry. Have I overlooked something?”, “You appear irritated…”. Gestures and facial expressions differ from person to person and are influenced by social and cultural imprints. Therefore, be attentive to change. Do not interpret and ask whether your assumption is correct. Ensure that you have understood them correctly. Everyone makes different assumptions owing to circumstances. If it concerns the quality of technical documentation in general for example, then the following should be asked” “What do you mean by quality? Stricter quality control or more support? “

Lead through questions

Just like active listening, you can lead the discussion with colleagues through questions. The effect of questions is often underestimated, because they can be an important instrument of control. Closed questions, which can be answered with yes or no have the task of leading to decisions and ensuring results, refer to the table below [4].

Type of question

What can I achieve through this

Closed questions


Yes-No questions:

"Do you agree with the suggestion?"

"Should I record that you will continue your education next year on topic X?"

Define positions

Secure results

Alternative questions:

"Would you rather book a seminar or a webinar?"

"Should we discuss tomorrow or would day after tomorrow be better  for you?

Drive and control decision processes



Open questions


What can I do for you? How can I support you?

Which programs are you aware of?

What do you mean by agile project management?

How did the conversation with Mr. X go?

Do you have an idea about who can support you?


Create atmosphere

Inquire about experience


Obtain information

What options are there in your opinion?

How do you want to solve this problem?

Encourage conversation partner to think

Why is it important to you?

What is/was your intention?

Interesting, how did you come upon the idea?

Clarify wishes/desires. Interests, needs

Clarify objective (of the action)

Source: Heidrun Wehmeyer, Jutta Witzel


Give your communication partner time to think, ask further questions if required. This should not however have the atmosphere of an interrogation. Sometimes even small things make a difference. E.g., Why-questions can induce justifications. Think of how these following questions will play out: “Why did you do this? “ or instead “What made you do this?”, “What was your intention?”, “What are your plans?” You show your colleague appreciation and recognition through the type of question, but also through your tone.

When your employees receive appreciation and meaningful work, they will work with more creativity and happiness and pave the way for the success of the team. The circle of supportive leadership closes here.


Links and reference literature related to the article

[1]    Hüther, Gerald; Purps, Sebastian

[2]    de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine (1956): The Wisdom of the Sands.

[3]    Gallup-Studie (31. März 2014): Press release on the Engagement Index 2013.

[4]    Rosner, Siegfried; Winheller, Andreas (2012): Gelingende Kommunikation – revisited. Rainer Hampp Verlag, Mering.