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Great Leaders Work to Tell Each Team Member this One Powerful Thing

Source | LinkedIn | Patrick Leddin, Ph.D.

Scientists tell us there is enough nuclear energy in a few buckets of seawater to power the entire world for a day—if it could be unleashed. Likewise, there’s enough talent, intelligence, capability, and creativity in each of the people in your organization to astound you—if it could be unleashed. Dr. Stephen Covey says, “Imagine the personal and organizational cost of failing to fully engage the passion, talent, and intelligence of the workforce. It is far greater than you can possibly imagine.”

In the Industrial Age, money was the key motivator. Many government leaders claim that when their people exhibit a low level of engagement, it is because the leader lacks the financial means to incentive them. Perhaps there is some truth to this argument, but in many cases, the problem runs deeper than money. The reality is that financial incentives fall short of engaging people: Salary is a “hygiene factor”—it’s expected. So what does motivate them? A monumental Towers-Perrin study shows that knowing their contribution is valued means far more to workers than their salary does. No other motivational factor—money, opportunity, trust, or communication—counts as much as “appreciation.” To know that your contribution is meaningful matters more than anything else.

“Knowing their contribution is valued means far more to workers than their salary does.”

“The least of things with meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it,” said Carl Jung. Almost every worker feels this way, as scholars recently found when surveying people across generations. It doesn’t much matter how old we are or the kind of work we do: “We all want the same basic things out of work,” concludes Wharton Professor Adam Grant. “Whether we’re Boomers, Gen Xers, or Millennials, we’re searching for interesting, meaningful jobs that challenge and stretch us.”

Meaning is the key to engaging people. It’s more important than money. It’s even more important than happiness. In her research, psychologist Dr. Barbara Fredrickson found that “even at the molecular level, our physical and psychological well-being is more dependent on meaning than on happiness.” Too much “feel-good living” seems to increase inflammation, higher stress levels, and a weaker immune system, whereas “meaningful living” is associated with better immune responses and capacity to handle adversity. Meaning is good for you. It’s also good for the organization you work for—the more people find their work meaningless, the worse it is for the organization. 

Some will say, “It’s my job to pay them. It’s their job to find meaning in what they do.” They have the old organizational mindset described by Daniel Pink: “Humans by their nature seek purpose—to make a contribution and to be part of a cause greater and more enduring than themselves. But traditional bureaucracies have long considered purpose ornamental—a perfectly nice accessory, so long as it didn’t get in the way of the important things.”

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