“Our passion for productivity increasingly depends upon the productivity of our passions. We can’t divorce commitment and caring from efficiency and effectiveness.” — Michael Schrage, co-director of MIT Media Labs’ e-market initiative and author of Serious Play

What gets people really excited about their jobs? What inspires the passion and commitment that translates into exceptional performance? It isn’t a process of management controls. It’s a leadership function that instills in people an emotional stake in what they do. As Daniel Goleman and his co-authors report in Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, “Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great leadership works through the emotions.”

Where such leadership is lacking, we see correspondingly low levels of passion and commitment. This manifests itself in many ways. Some of the symptoms include “we-they” gaps between organizational levels (such as front line staff and management) or between groups and departments, poor levels of customer service, lower quality, dwindling morale, Victimitis, low pride, and little ownership.

People who hate their work are slaves, no matter how much money they make. Managers who “motivate” by pushing — rather than pulling to lead — can too easily become slave drivers. They can become like a misguided farmer who angrily kicks his cow in the stomach because her milk production is off.

Most managers recognize that one of their key roles is “motivating” others. They also recognize that a key to motivation is empowerment. But it’s too often a lot of empty “leaderspeak.” For all that the popular “E” word has been bandied about in the last few years, not much has changed in many organizations.

There are many reasons why empty empowerment rhetoric is so widespread today. One of the most common is confusion about (or misapplication of) intrinsic or internal motivation (leadership) versus extrinsic or external motivators (management). In his article “Empowerment: The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Harvard professor Chris Argyris outlines this difference:

“If management wants employees to take more responsibility for their own destiny, it must encourage the development of internal commitment. As the name implies, internal commitment comes largely from within….by definition, internal commitment is participatory and very closely allied with empowerment. The more that management wants internal commitment from its employees, the more it must try to involve employees in defining work objectives, specifying how to achieve them, and setting stretch targets.”

In our consulting work, there’s an old adage that we frequently quote to clients: “If they help plan the battle, they won’t battle the plan.” The power of using employee involvement to build internal commitment is both measurable and impressive. One organization made a massive effort to involve everyone in their planning process. A year later the company’s absenteeism dropped by 300 percent — and saved millions of dollars!