“The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him, in other men, the conviction and the will to carry on.”
Walter Lippman, (September 23, 1889 – December 14, 1974), American public intellectual, writer, reporter, and political commentator who won two Pulitzer Prizes
An ardent admirer of Theodore Roosevelt once told him, “Mr. Roosevelt, you are a great man!” To which he replied, “No, Teddy Roosevelt is simply a plain, ordinary man – highly motivated!” A vital mark of a true leader is that he or she is internally motivated. Nevertheless, my focus today is on the leader as an external motivator to others.
As leaders, we have a remarkable opportunity to be a critical source of motivation that can permeate every level of our organizations. This can’t be done from behind a desk – relying solely on managerial tools and metrics. We need to engage those entrusted to our leadership – let them know we are with them through thick and thin.
While operational success depends on the necessary combination of skill-sets, temperaments, experiences and training, a leader’s impact on his or her followers’ motivation cannot be understated. Unfortunately, many leaders are either unaware of or lose sight of this truth – primarily functioning as administrative managers (what Jim Collins in “Good to Great”, refers to as a Level 3 Leader). A true leader (Collin’s Level 4 Leader) inspires and influences the members to arrive at difficult destinations and attain unimaginable heights, which they would otherwise not.
So how can you, regardless of your formal title or organizational position, motivate your followers to greater achievements?
1. Focusing on your conviction: The last thing your team members want to hear his or her leader say is, “Well, the guys up at corporate say we have to…” People entrusted to your leadership, will be motivated by what you believe in, not in what some unknown executive notes in an email. Effective leaders communicate their vision for the organization, such that the employees believe it and follow. Nevertheless, in multi-tiered companies, leaders at the lower tiers do not always have clarity on where the senior leaders are heading or why they are doing so. If you are a subordinate leader, how can you still rally your team? First, proactive communication is a two-way street. At any level, if you don’t have the information you need, ask for it or find it. Second, once you understand the vision, mission, directive, etc., take ownership of it.
Your followers won’t believe in any vision or mission, until they believe that (you) their leader believes it! In Apollo-13 (the movie), when Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) delivered the news to Ken Mattingly (played by Gary Sinise) that their mission director and the flight surgeon won’t allow Mattingly on the mission suspecting that he has the measles, Lovell said, “The decision is mine!” Lovell took ownership of the judgement which gave the remaining crew members confidence that he was leading them.
2. Tying your mission to a higher purpose: I believe a vast majority of people have an innate desire to give their lives to something greater than themselves. Help your team make the connection between their service or product and something of a positive impact for years to come. You can also connect the nature of their work to something that will outlive them “We will go down in history as the best rubber gasket manufacturer ever!”
3. Handling difficulty together: Adversity often breeds gossiping and rumor mongering. Because a team needs to stay motivated when things go wrong or unexpectedly, decisive leadership supported by camaraderie are essential. Leaders ensure their employees believe the goals/objectives are still attainable. When you encounter a curveball, quickly assess the situation, and determine next steps, involving your team members; then communicate the plan, along with the expected POSITIVE outcome.
4. Stressing the importance of every individual – professionally and personally: Inspire and influence by communicating the significance of everyone’s contribution (“You’re not just a cog in the machine, you’re an essential member of this team.”). Consider the whole person, not just what they do during business hours. Ensure all members know they are personally valued.
I experienced motivational leadership firsthand during my initial one-on-one meeting with one of my first bosses in the Army. After laying out the organization’s mission and his convictions, he said, “But my top priority, Steve, is your success! Because if you and your peers are successful, this organization will be successful!” In the months ahead, he walked his talk and put shoe-leather to that statement. Through proactive holistic mentoring, along with timely challenges and encouragement, he ensured I believed I was positioned for success in every aspect of my life.