Friday, December 28, 2012

Tapping the Motivation Reserve

What do you think about when you hear the word “motivation?”

It often brings to mind coaches and athletes, parents and children, maybe even teachers and students. But in all of these scenarios, we assume motivation is something that is coached, shared, or taught. However, in the realm of leadership, motivation is better understood as an internal force that prompts us into action. I call this our motivation reserve.

Think about what prompts you to get up every day and go to work. It could be the money… or maybe the responsibility… something motivates you to get up. I think this same thing can be harnessed within our organizations as a means of getting others to be more active and take more pride in what they do. Our motivation is something that can be tapped and when brought out to its fullest potential, something that will keep individuals or groups active, creative, and having more fun. This is the motivation reserve and we all have it.

An ongoing problem facing leaders is that some people perform better than others. They work harder and are more successful in their roles within the organization. Sometimes we attribute this to their level of motivation. While this may be true to some degree, I believe the problem is deeper and lies in ones level of participation and engagement within the organization. Let’s explore this in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As we advance to our higher-order need of self-actualization, we must first satisfy our lower-order needs such as self-esteem, belongingness, security, and the basic need for survival. This is true in life as well as in organizations. Before our teams can evolve to a point of creativity and problem-solving, they must first be respected, be accepted, and be secure in the organizational environment. Too often we seek to jump straight to problem solving before we spend time developing the team.

When the lower-order needs are ignored in our organizations, motivation can become a problem. As leaders, we must recognize that everyone is motivated differently and that we need to adapt to their needs. We can accomplish this by following some simple techniques that will be useful as we tap into the motivation reserve of those around us.

1.           Study people around you and determine what makes them tick
2.           Be a good listener
3.           Criticize or reprimand constructively and in private
4.           Praise in public
5.           Be considerate
6.           Empower others with responsibility and let them lead
7.           Give credit where credit is due
8.           Avoid domination or forcefulness
9.           Show interest in and appreciation of others
10.        Play up the positive
11.        Be consistent
12.        Do not be afraid to ask for help
13.        Always be open to new ideas
14.        Be careful in what you say and how you say it
15.        Never forget leaders influence the culture of the organization

These simple suggestions are not new and certainly are not all-encompassing. However, they are consistent with Maslow’s Hierarchy as each one is complementary to one of the five needs. Getting others to do what needs to be done to accomplish organizational goals is what leadership is all about. Doing so in a manner that is inclusive and conscientious is critical. As leaders, if we commit ourselves to following these guidelines, we will be able to consistently tap into the motivation reserve others.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Followers are Leaders Too

“Raise your hand if you consider yourself a leader. Now raise your hand if you consider yourself a follower. Come on… you must choose between one or the other.”

This is a scenario that plays out in organizations everywhere. While it may not occur in exactly the way described, by being asked to raise your hand, it is certainly present in the way we view others… and often in how others view us. We find ourselves placing our colleagues in the two distinct silos of “leader” and “follower.” But, we know that the world and our organizations are not so easily defined.

Being a good follower is often the same as being a good leader. That’s right. Sometimes by assuming the best leadership role required for a given situation means that we take a step back and allow someone else to lead. We become a follower. But this in no way lets us off the leadership hook as we assume new roles and responsibilities. Let’s discuss a few of these:

  • Initiator: suggests new ideas, raises questions, sets goals
  • Information and Opinion Seeker: open to new ideas, asks and encourages others to share new ideas
  • Encourager: encourages and stimulates others to participate, shares and supports their efforts
  • Facilitator: helps the group improve communications by testing, clarifying, and understanding meanings, makes sure others are being understood
  • Evaluator: questions the practicality or logic of ideas, but not too quickly or in a way that embarrasses or demeans others
  • Orienter: summarizes, clarifies, and helps the group find a sense of direction
  • Consensus Seeker: tests whether the group is in agreement and works on solutions to achieve consensus

By now you are probably thinking that I pulled a “bait and switch” on you as all of these roles and responsibilities are those of a leader. They are!... and that’s the point. It is important to understand these roles from both the perspective of a leader as well as the follower. When we follow, and when others assume this role, it is important to understand how we fit within the team. In other words, how followers can convey leadership, too.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Naked Leadership

Like many of us back in high school, there were many quips or phrases that we often used in our communication with friends. Some were innocent and others not so much. However, there was one particular saying of which I’m not sure of the origin or the real intent, but it was nonetheless a phrase often uttered… party naked.

I don’t know what made me recall this expression all these years later, but it did get me thinking about leading naked. Not in the real sense of streaking around our organizations with no clothes on, but in the metaphorical sense of being transparent or unadorned in our leadership style. A quick Google search of the topic revealed that David Bentley and Mark Gregory have books titled Naked Leadership and David Taylor has a series of books on the topic the naked leader. While this idea is certainly not new, my thoughts on naked leadership are somewhat different.

Strong and effective leadership requires an openness and transparency that let’s others in, keeps them close, and allows them to be successful. It is about partnership, collaboration, and teamwork. Like the emperor who wore no clothes, leaders sometimes become self-absorbed or arrogant forgetting that success can only be measured in how we treat others. We need not be complex or flamboyant in our leadership instead seeking a style that is au naturale and austere.

So, how do we become naked leaders… let’s explore:

Strip down to the basics

I am a solid believer that everything we need to know to be successful leaders we learned in kindergarten. Robert Fulghum defined things like sharing, playing fair, and living a balanced life as skills that transcend time and place and are as true today as they were when we where little. Instead of trying to make leadership more complex, we need to get back to the basics. Forget about trying to become a better leader and instead seek to be more natural and authentic. Improved leadership will be the result.

Shed our constraints

What restrictions or limitations do you place on yourself as a leader? Too often we allow others, and yes, even ourselves, to control our actions based on perception and emotion. However, effective leadership grows beyond such constraints and effective leaders become the thought leaders of their organizations, driving the vision and the message. In the words of Andrea J. Lee, “Want to strengthen your thought leadership? Crown yourself and assume the throne. Use opinion, story, and credentials to build authority.” 

Remove the obstacles

Much like the challenge courses many of us have completed along our leadership development journey, there are many obstacles, both real and perceived, that block our path. Too often we hold on to the mindset of a manager instead of the vision of a leader. Maybe we let fear of failure drive our decision making and action. Or maybe it’s as simple as our ego getting in the way. Whatever the obstacles, seek ways to remove them to make the path to your vision clear and open for you and others to follow.

Expose ourselves to others

Again, I’m not suggesting that you literally run naked through your organization, but I do propose that you bare yourself to others so that they see the true leader in you. I think it’s time leaders practiced a little unprotected leadership and let their passions shine through: shift your thinking, share your joys, acknowledge your skills, and try something new. If you exposed yourself in this way, imagine how your leadership could bloom.

Basically, naked leadership represents a new interpretation of the leader that you already are. It is uncovering the true leader that lives within, bringing it shamelessly out in the open for everyone to see. It is simple, unembellished leadership. Try it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Formula for Leading Change

Effective leadership has become a topic of great debate and discussion. As we try to define leadership, we often find ourselves drawn to the classic words used to describe leaders. However, leadership is really about change and leaders are tasked with managing change in an efficient and effective manner.

Like an artist who creates a masterpiece to be interpreted in various ways by those who experience it, leadership is also recognized through the eyes of others. Like art, leadership is often interpreted through experience, environment, and aesthetics. Despite efforts to define and limit our understanding of leadership, it exists beyond a singular, fixed interpretation. Again, like art, leadership is not so much the skills you want to convey, but more about the skills perceived in you by others.

While it can be argued that leadership is more of an art than a science, the quantification of leadership is not without merit and precedence. Science has provided much insight in how our brain works and the characteristics common among leaders. In fact, the study of leadership has expanded into the fields of psychology, neuroscience, sociology, and other academic disciplines providing an ever-increasing base of knowledge.

While I submit to the idea that leadership is more of an art than a science (the science, I think, helps us better understand the art), leadership, being the product of action, courage, and instinct, equals change. Let’s explore this simple formula for effectively leading change:


Leadership is simply the ability to affect change in others and this can be accomplished in many ways. I submit that three characteristics stand out when leading change: action, courage, and instinct.


Action is best understood in terms of doing rather than saying. Like the physics principle suggests, a body in motion tends to stay in motion and this is true of leadership as well. Tom Stevens, in his blog Think Leadership Ideas suggests seven leadership actions that allow leaders to model change behavior. Our actions are often more important than our words and the more active and present we are, the more we tend to remain “in motion.”


There is a long-standing debate about leaders being born rather than made. Despite where you stand on this topic, I believe that leadership is more about becoming who you are rather than changing into something you are not. It takes courage to develop into the leader you are supposed to be. It is much easier to change with the times and conform to what others want and expect. In the words of President Gerald Ford, "In the age-old contest between popularity and principle, only those willing to lose for their convictions are deserving of posterity's approval."


Like the hierarchical power structure seen in much of the animal kingdom, leadership is about power and influence. In the chimpanzee world, the alpha male uses his instincts to remain in the leadership spot. In organizations, our instincts help us discern our strategy for leading others. In her book The DNA of Leadership, Judith Glaser suggests that extraordinary leadership is built around understanding and unleashing our instincts. “Good instincts usually tell you what to do long before your head has figured it out” (Michael Burke).

As leaders, the actions we model are important in building trust and leading change. It requires courage for these actions to be authentic, and for us to be true to who we are as leaders. And all of this relies on our instincts and our ability to not over-think the situation at hand. Change is only as complicated as we make it.