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Why the CEO Can't Motivate You

Sep 27, 2017

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SMITH BRAIN TRUST — Leaders who search for ways to motivate their teams are focusing on the wrong thing, BB&T Chairman and CEO Kelly S. King said Sept. 26, 2017, at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. "I can't motivate you," he said. "You can't motivate anyone else."

King said effective leaders focus instead on teaching beliefs, so people can govern themselves regardless of their motivation. At BB&T this means acceptance of 10 corporate values, which emphasize a growth mindset. "I teach beliefs," King said. "That's what I do."

He gave the example of two people motivated by hunger. Depending on their beliefs, one might go to the market and steal food, while the other might go to the same market and sweep floors to earn food. "Your beliefs control your behavior," he said, "not your motivation."

King, the featured guest at the Smith School's BB&T Colloquium on Capitalism, Ethics and Leadership, said leaders who see themselves as motivators often fall into the trap of pandering to low-performers. They multiply the bureaucracy within their organizations to police behavior, which drives away high performers who feel stifled. "If you don't teach beliefs, you have to have control mechanisms," he said.

King said people who reject BB&T beliefs fit better in other organizations. "We encourage them to go work for the competition or the government," he says.

Smith School professor Rajshree Agarwal, director of the school’s Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets, moderated the discussion. The annual colloquium is supported by a $1.5 million gift from BB&T in 2010.

Other topics covered by King:

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business 

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty masters, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.