People are internally motivated. The good work of leadership is to tap into that motivation and accelerate, support, deepen and encourage it. I think the biggest leadership mistake is one of getting in the way of what is already there. It is the hubris of thinking that I either have to supply motivation or that my version of it is superior to what someone brings with them. This is classically paternalistic. “That’s nice,” says the well-intentioned leader, “but here’s how it should be.”
So many employees buy into this paternalism because they love the protection it affords. They are making a painful trade-off by accepting someone else’s version of how they should feel, think and believe and only because they are separated by one rung on the pay scale. At best this substitution of perspective is an ill-fitting replacement and at worst it’s deeply corrosive. The courageous leadership move is toward a partnership that is about maximizing what the individual has to offer; what you saw in them in the first place that made you want to hire them.
Leaders control, in my opinion, because the chaos of the individual is just too overwhelming. That is to say, most leaders don’t seem to have the capacity to treat each individual employee as a naturally, uniquely motivated person and figure out how to make the most it. And that capacity doesn’t exist because the leader hasn’t looked within long enough or purposefully enough to discover their own motivation. Ultimately, they just end up repeating the pattern of their experience because they haven’t learned to value and express their personal, internal perspective. Instead, the leader lumps everyone together, expecting them to be “just like me” and thinking that somehow this is going to lead to innovation and value creation.
How can it possibly?
Start within. The courageous step is the one back to yourself.
DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.