GUEST BLOGGER: Karla Brandau, Founder of Discretionary Effort Leadership, CEO of Workplace Power Institute

On Monday morning, Dana, a team lead, was very excited about the week and what she hoped the team could finish. She walked through the office doors and hurried over to her team’s section of the floor. She noticed only one person working at a desk. Three were still in the break room, two were standing by the windows on their smartphones, and one was nowhere to be found.

Dana sighed and wondered how to get them to start work and make progress on the new app they were developing for a client. She wanted them to give discretionary effort but that seemed like a mythical, somewhere in the concept of the cloud that was out of reach, at least today.  

Have you had a similar experience as a team leader?

Many team members do just enough so they don’t get fired. They give minimal effort. I believe that getting team members to go beyond stated expectations in their job description and give discretionary effort is an art, not a science.

How to get a discretionary Effort from Your Team

Discretionary effort is the difference between what team members do to get a paycheck and what they are capable of contributing.

Here are some tips to move your team forward and discover what they as individuals can contribute and what they as a group are capable of achieving. With these tips, you can make the art of getting discretionary effort seem like a science.

1. The Productivity Piece.

A productive team needs strong direction. Make sure you know in your mind where the team is headed. Do you have a clear picture in your mind of the finished product? Have you conveyed this to your team? What about the deadline? Is it definite? Do you have checkpoints along the way to the deadline? Are you able to have discussions at checkpoints that don’t seem like micromanaging? What are the consequences of not meeting checkpoints and deadlines?

When these questions are clear in your mind, you are capable of projecting to your team members not only a vision of the finished product or service but confidence. When they see the finished product in their minds, they require less supervision and they give more discretionary effort.

2. The Psychological Safety Element.

Have you ever had an idea that could improve a product yet when you told the team you received a sarcastic response?  Or have you surfaced the truth about a problem you observed when in discussion with the client about a finished product only to have someone squash your observation as unimportant?

Negative people effectively destroy psychological safety, or the ability of team members to tell the truth about problems and issues from their point of view. Once put down, they will clam up, not share their ideas and the team loses valuable insights that could improve the product or service you are producing.

When your team members bring their ideas listen intently. Use phrases such as:

  • “Tell me more. How would this work?”
  • “That idea has possibilities. How do you think it will add to our current project?”
  • “You have a clever point. Can you prepare this in more depth for our team meeting?”

Listening is the greatest respect you can show someone and when you ask questions to get more information, you give them psychological safety to express their opinions.

3. The Gratitude Challenge.

Expressing gratitude for the contributions made by team members seems like a no-brainer yet it is easy to take their efforts for granted. It is also easy to see what is going wrong, not what is going right. By looking for positive happenings among your team members, you are taking the gratitude challenge.

When reading a book entitled “The Encouragement Book” by Don Dinkmeyer, I learned that individuals need encouragement more than praise. Praise is normally given at the completion of a project; yet, every team member when assigned a difficult task needs reassurance and affirmation as they move along the pathway to completion. This is called encouragement.

You can offer encouragement on a regular basis by thanking them for their efforts. Words such as:

  • “Great Excel sheet. It captures all the vital data.”
  • “Nice PowerPoint template for our presentation. The color scheme you chose is very pleasing.”
  • “You handled the resistance questions in our team meeting with expertise. Thank you for the clarifications you made.”

How to show gratitude to your team members

These are ideas on how to look for actions and contributions you can thank team members for, showing gratitude, and giving encouragement.

When team members have a clear vision of where they are going, feel psychologically safe in discussions, and are thanked for their efforts, they tend to give you creative ideas, mind share, and thoughtful problem-solving concepts…all components of discretionary effort.

In science, there are predictable outcomes if you follow the rules. When it comes to getting discretionary effort from your team, rules are less important than learning the art of leading people, customizing your interactions with individuals, and building rapport based on the team member’s personality.


The art of discretionary effort comes in the way you convey a vision of the future; the way you listen and customize your conversations with your team members; and the observations you make of their efforts that make expressing gratitude a necessity.   

About the author: Karla Brandau is the CEO of Workplace Power Institute and the author of “How to Earn the Gift of Discretionary Effort” that teaches managers how to become leaders people CHOOSE to follow, not have to follow because of their place on the organizational chart. Her principles for leaders help them be more charismatic and guide the team through rough patches to greater productivity and achievement. Implement her principles and become the shining star in your organization.

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One Response

  1. I hope you gained a couple of golden gems from this blog post. I’d love to have you post what was the most significant learning point for you.

    Starting a discretionary effort initiative in your company is imperative to growth and innovation. Best wishes for you as you begin the journey.

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