There is more to good leadership that just being a great motivator

Part of good leadership is to set a clear direction, find your employees’ innate gifts and encourage them to use those gifts

Group of happy young business people in a meeting at office

Rumi says, “Something opens our wings. Something makes boredom and heartache disappear. Someone fills the cup in front of us. We taste only sacredness.” All human beings have great potential. The question every leader asks is “How do we tap into this enormous potential?”

A few years ago I was in Tajikistan, where I worked with a company that was struggling with both finances and motivating its staff. I was forewarned that the staff members did not have business sense because they had become accustomed to the Soviet system in which the state did everything. The private enterprise system was foreign to them.

My job was to motivate the staff, and I was given two full days to accomplish this. After flying to Tajikistan and getting a VIP welcome at the airport, I was brought back to reality when I travelled by jeep to the company’s headquarters. What was supposed to be a 12-hour drive in the mountains turned out to be a 19-hour commute with four flat tires and no real washrooms or restaurants along the way.

We reached our destination at 3am. The view of the mountains was nothing short of spectacular. Getting out of the car, high in the mountains, I was greeted by thousands of stars, each seemingly bigger than the earth. I was watching with my entire five-foot-seven-inch height. If I’d ever wanted to learn a lesson in humility, it was right there.

Getting out of the car, high in the mountains, I was greeted by thousands of stars, each seemingly bigger than the earth

"I won't motivate them"

At 8am the CEO was knocking on my door, saying, “Hey, Mr Motivator, please come and motivate my people.” I told the CEO that I was not doing that. He was surprised because that was the purpose of my engagement.

I told him that what I wanted to do was spend the first of my two days interviewing his top 25 people. He didn’t think that was going to help because they had no idea about business. I told him that didn’t matter because I needed to understand the challenges from their perspective before I could motivate them. I did not leave him much choice.

I spent the entire day interviewing his top 25 people, many of them with the help of a translator. I asked them three questions:

  1. Do you have a clear idea of the vision and mission of your company?
  2. What are the big roadblocks preventing you from working at your best?
  3. If you were the CEO of the company, how would you run it differently?

As they responded, I made notes and ended up with about 30 pages. In the evening I asked the CEO to assemble these top 25 people at 8am the next day. He asked me when I was going to start motivating. I told him, “Sometime tomorrow.”

I woke up at 2am and summarised the 30 pages into 10 key areas, which I wrote on a white board. At 7am I went through these 10 points with the interviewees to confirm that I had captured the essence of what they had stated the previous day. They studied the list hard and confirmed that the points encapsulated our individual discussions.

I woke up at 2am and summarised the 30 pages into 10 key areas, which I wrote on a white board

rom my interviews, I learned that no one had a clear picture of the vision and mission of the company. I decided to put them into groups of four to brainstorm about where they would like to see the company in five years’ time. I gave them approximately 30 minutes to do this.

Subsequently, I had one member from each group present their findings. As we went through each presentation, they were not only able to articulate a powerful vision and mission but also came up with a logo and branding proposition. Incredible! I had never seen any group that I have dealt with come up with all of this in a matter of an hour and have consensus around it. This was a group that supposedly had no business background. Absolutely amazing!

This example illustrates two key points. First, we underestimate people’s capabilities. We all have innate gifts. Second, without clarity of purpose and direction, there is no motivation.

Importance of clarity

If you don’t have a clear sense of your purpose and goals, you cannot use your innate gift well.

A few years ago, Harris Interactive, the originators of the Harris Poll, polled 23,000 American residents employed full-time in key industries and key functional areas. Among other things, they reported the following findings:

  • Only 1 in 5 was enthusiastic about their team and organisation’s goals.
  • Only 1 in 5 had a clear “line of sight” linking their tasks and the team and organisation’s goals.
  • Only 15 per cent felt their organisation fully enabled them to execute key goals.
  • Only 17 per cent felt their organisation fostered open communication that was respectful of different viewpoints.
  • Only 10 per cent felt their organisation held people accountable.
  • Only 20 per cent fully trusted their organisation.

In his excellent book, The 8th Habit, Stephen Covey explains these findings as follows:

If, say, a soccer team had these same scores, only four of the eleven players on the field would know which goal is theirs. Only two of the eleven would care. Only two of eleven would know which position they play and exactly what they are supposed to do. And all but two players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent. Can you imagine the personal and organisational cost of failing to fully engage the passion, talent and intelligence of the workforce?

A shared vision is an absolute must

Is everyone aiming at the same goal? If not, there will be scattered energy. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, often shared with his teams the GE philosophy for the organisation: Either they were #1 or #2, or they would fix, close or sell. His blueprint for transforming GE’s performance was to keep it simple. That is the power of mission and focus. It is important to have a common or shared vision. Once people buy into a vision, it is easier to implement. You need the contribution of everyone who is part of the vision.

You may also like: What a leader is not

Part of good leadership is to set a clear direction, find your employees’ innate gifts and encourage them to use those gifts. By doing this, you encourage your employees to work to their potential. You may lose some employees when they realise they do not belong in your team—but better to get them off your team early rather than late.


A version of this article first appeared in the June 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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