We regularly review our seven Timeless Leadership Principles in our workshops while participants assess how well they feel they’re doing with each one, and which of the Principles they’d most like to improve. The one that scores number one or two on participant priority lists for improvement is Mobilizing and Energizing. Supervisors, managers, and executives want ways to “motivate” or move their team members to higher performance.

Strong Leaders Harness the Power of Spirit and Meaning - Jim Clemmer's Practical LeaderThe Principle that consistently ranks near the bottom is Spirit and Meaning. Yet it’s one of the most powerful and enduring ways to foster extraordinary effort. Most managers don’t appreciate what this Principle really entails and it’s incredible potential to energize. An outstanding article laced with plenty of supporting research in June’s Harvard Business Review not only proves the enormous power of this Principle, but also provides many practical examples.

In How Customers Can Rally Your Troops, Adam Grant, management professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School explains that:

“There’s a wealth of evidence that people want to do meaningful work: In national surveys over the past three decades, the vast majority of Americans have identified meaningful work as the single most important feature that they seek in a job. And numerous researchers have found that people are concerned not only about themselves but also about doing work that benefits others and contributes to society.”

Here are a few of the examples Grant provides in his very powerful article:

  • “A five-minute meeting with a student who had received a scholarship motivated university fundraisers to increase their weekly productivity by 400%.
  • A photograph of a patient drove radiologists to improve the accuracy of their diagnostic findings by 46%.
  • Wells Fargo managers show bankers videos of people describing how low-interest loans rescued them from severe debt — a vivid reminder to the bankers that they are striving to serve their customers, not their managers.
  • St. Luke’s Hospital hosts a Night of Heroes event, during which patients are reconnected with the trauma teams that saved their lives and all team members are honored for their contributions.
  • Facebook flies in users from around the country to meet with engineers and share how the site has reconnected them to family and friends.
  • At Ritz Carlton hotels around the world, employees meet daily for 15 minutes to share ‘wow’ stories about going the extra mile to make a difference in customers’ lives.”

The reason Mobilizing and Energizing is rated so much higher than Spirit and Meaning is often because supervisors, managers, and executives are searching for external factors (incentives or recognition programs are popular crutches) that can push people to higher performance. That’s really management, not leadership.

Strong leaders create environments that fan the flames of internal motivation. Showing team members how the work they do contributes to a greater cause, touches lives, and really makes a difference is an incredibly powerful energy source.

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