I worked at the IT department of a company. This IT department hires 3 university students every 8 months. When I was working, one of the students (sat in the cubicle behind me) used to slack quite a bit - he'd just sit there with his eyes closed in his cubicle. (I'll refer to this student as the slacker).

The other student (sat in the cubicle beside me) is hard working but not an amazing programmer so is inefficient. She genuinely tries to work, but in the end, her skills in programming aren't amazing and she is shy and lacks communication skills. (I'll refer to this student as the girl). All three of us are in the same department and sit right beside each other but we work on completely different projects.

During the exit interview, my manager said that the one weakness I had was leadership skills. He said that although I myself am an extremely efficient worker, I need to motivate the workers around me and get them to like working as well. I need to motivate them to like their jobs, and help them out. He said that leaders make leaders and it's something I should work on.

I'm not sure what I could have done to motivate the students around me. This was my situation:

Slacker is 21 years old and just gossips all the time (he's the typical student). I'm a student as well and I know very well how to be good friends with him, but I have no idea how to motivate him to get work done.

During lunch, us three would hang out with 4 other students from other departments. We're just a bunch of students hanging out, so no one really motivates each other when it comes to work. The students just tell stories about their lives (nothing wrong with this) but they also laugh about how slacker tries sleeping at work and barely gets work done but still gets paid (this makes a kid 'cool' apparently), so the laughing encourages him.

I am really good friends with them, so I know that if I behave the correct way, I can have an influence on them. I just don't know how I should behave to inspire and motivate them to do work, especially considering that at lunch, the group of friends we hang out with laugh with him about how he slacks. Also, we all work on different projects so I can't assign them tasks and give deadlines.

My mindset used to be "if they aren't interested in producing work and don't have the skills, they need to help / get themselves motivated first before others can help them".

Now this would be an ideal worker: a highly efficient worker who motivates and makes the workers around him more efficient as well. But it's a lot harder than it sounds.

Can anyone give me advice as to how I can improve my leadership skills and motivate the workers around me to be overall better workers? In particular, how do I get the slacker to start getting work done and liking his job, and how do I get the hard working girl (but not so great programmer) to be more efficient and improve her communication skills?

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    Even though she's a student, she's old enough to be considered adult at this point. Consider assigning pseudonyms to your coworkers. Oct 18, 2014 at 5:58
  • One of the things you should start with - don't assume that just because you see someone sitting with their eyes closed they are a slacker. I do this quite a bit, and it's called 'thinking'. Oct 18, 2014 at 17:34
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    @DJClayworth Yes for sure. It wasn't the fact that he sits with his eyes closed which got me to believe he is a slacker, it's the fact that he takes pride about how he does not do any work and gets paid, and the fact that he laughs With the other student workers about this. He also comes and tells me stories about how he was sleeping and the manager walked in his cubicle and he quickly got up and pretended that he was working. I just didn't mention this because I didn't want to make my post too long, but yes you are right, eye's closed does not imply slacking. Oct 18, 2014 at 19:47
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    "one weakness I had was leadership skills" your boss are saying that every person are obligated to be a leader? ludicrous
    – lambdapool
    May 10, 2016 at 16:00
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    Do you have a leadership role? If you don't, I don't see why you should have to motivate people in your team, let alone other teams.
    – undefined
    May 10, 2016 at 16:30

5 Answers 5


To lead peers (which is what you're trying to do): Lead by example. Lead by sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm. Lead by helping them figure out what would make them more enthusiastic.

Also, turn the "leaders make leaders" around, and -- as @JoeStrazzere said -- ask him to lead you in leading them by suggesting ways you can do this. If he wants you to learn a skill, he should model/mentor it or help you find someone who can.

Or seek another mentor on your own.

When a manager sets a goal you're not sure how to approach, it's always fair (and often wise) to ask if he can recommend resources that will help you succeed.


You have no official authority over these students. You have not been delegated any authority to supervise any of their work nor do you have any accountability for their doing their work. Either your manager is dumping something on you - he is actually the one who is accountable - or he is smoking something, or both.

It is the prerogative of management to manage. The countertrade is that it is management's responsibility to make their expectations clear. I would be more than a little peeved if the first I learned that I am supposed to lead a bunch of people who have no accountability to me is at my exit interview.

So far as I am concerned, your manager is a poor manager.

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    I think what the manager is doing is giving the OP, who is clearly interested in leadership, an opportunity to learn, practice and demonstrate that leadership. That makes them a good manager. Oct 18, 2014 at 16:52
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    They'd be a better manager if they helped the employee acquire those skills. On the other hand, learning how to ask where one can learn something is one of the skills to acquire...
    – keshlam
    Oct 18, 2014 at 17:25
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    DJClayworth and keshlam The difference between training and so-called training is the difference between the way I do it and the way the OP's manager does it. Oct 18, 2014 at 18:53
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    @DJClayworth: That manager isn't giving the OP any opportunity, since this was feedback during an exit interview. The opportunity comes a bit late.
    – gnasher729
    May 11, 2016 at 16:32

In the past, when I didn't feel like working, or felt that my contributions were useless, I would look around and see people who worked hard, took pride in their work, and it made a huge impact. Now, I strive to do the same and have been happy at work ever since.

Perhaps you can lead by example. People look at actions, not words. And when they see you working hard they will come to YOU and ask for advice. Don't chase anyone, let them come to you for guidance.


Your manager who complained about your supposed lack of leadership skills should really look at this own skills first.

So there are co-workers who are not on your team. They are not on your team, therefore what they do or don't do is none of your business. You are not in a management position, so motivating these co-workers is none of your business. If your manager thought you should be motivating them, he missed the obvious Step 1: Tell you that you should be motivating them. And the obvious Step 2: Put you into a position where you can tell these people what to do. And then is Step 3: If it is your responsibility to motivate these people, that's work and time spent, which you then cannot spend on other tasks.

Quite often we have questions here what you should do when a member of a different team, or even of your own team, behaves in a way that you feel isn't right, and very often the answer is "none of your business".


Just two points to add:

  • During student jobs we used to make fun who works less and that we all just sit around and surf facebook (yeah, that wa a thing back in the days ;) and watch videos of kittens all day long. Actually we did nothing of that and worked hard, but it was just making fun of the people who complain all the time about how hard their work and how much they do.

  • Closed eyes means he is visualizing data not on his screen, maybe he is thinking about the whole workflow and comes up with a solution that skips a step in processing, reduces the processing time by a factor of 10 or saves the company 5 million dollars a month. This could even be done in 5 lines of code, so you can't measure productivity this way either.

About your question, it is not your job to motivate people, but you can for example involve them when you did something cool "look, I combined a flopXY with a switchRS and now I can do swooshN in 500ms, isn't that cool?" They probably won't know what that means, but they will see how motiviation looks like, and think you're a nerd. :p

The other thing is to show interest in their work, ask what they are doing, what tools they use, how it is going, let them explain something. Mention things like "that's nice, I never get to work with technology Z." Try to connect to them on a business level just like you do in your free/lunch time.

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