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Motivated to Wake Up at Four-Thirty, without the Alarm

Source | LinkedIn : By Gary Burnison

It’s four-thirty in the morning and you’re wide awake.

Maybe you’ve been jolted by a nightmare—the classic anxiety dreams we’ve all had in one form or another. You’re being chased by something villainous, but your legs refuse to move; suddenly, startled half to death, you pop out of bed – wide awake for the day. Or, how about when you were so excited for the day to begin, you woke up at 4:30 a.m. without the alarm clock? Most of us can remember feeling this way when we were kids – a birthday, or going camping, or maybe taking a first trip to Disneyland…

That’s the ultimate leadership challenge in today’s workplace reality of doing more with less: generating the kind of excitement that gets employees up each day with enthusiasm.

One of the early founders of our firm, the late David McClelland, published seminal books that addressed motivation: The Achieving Society, 1961; Human Motivation, 1973, and several others. In his breakthrough work, McClelland identified the three motivators that have the biggest impact on behavior in the workplace: achievement, the desire for mastery at the individual level; affiliation, establishing and maintaining relationships; and power, having an impact or influence.

For leaders, the ideal is to display the kind of power that makes others feel stronger and more able and capable than even they had expected to be. Most of us can remember a teacher, a mentor, or a boss who saw potential in us that we didn’t even see in ourselves. I still remember my sixth-grade teacher who, noticing my interaction with others, pulled me aside and said, “Keep it up—and you’ll be a leader one day.” Back then I didn’t really know what he meant, but I never forgot those words, or how they made me feel.

Being an effective leader starts with knowing how to inspire people—to transform individual self-interest to shared collective interest. This happens most often by clearly defining the “why” of the organization – its common purpose. I recall sitting down with Lieutenant General Franklin “Buster” Hagenbeck, a three-star general (now retired) who expressed purpose in a “life or death” context that most leaders, fortunately, will never have to deal with. Over the course of nearly four decades of military service, commanding thousands of men and women, Gen. Hagenbeck demonstrated the twin leadership strengths of competence and compassion. While leading a dangerous mission on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the general had confidence that his commanders could accomplish the necessary tasks, without taking unnecessary risks with their subordinates.

“Creating alignment starts with the top, with senior leadership. That’s who you are and what you do,” explained Gen. Hagenbeck, who also served as superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point. “You have to be able, in our terms, to give mission statement and commander’s intent. We will typically give bright lines—right and left limits of what they can do….”

The key to creating alignment is purpose—defined and embodied at the top of the organization, and embraced throughout. For businesses, purpose defines why they do what they do. It’s not simply to make money—that’s an outcome, not a purpose. In the same vein, people are motivated when they are contributing to something bigger than themselves—something with purpose and meaning. They derive more satisfaction when they know they belong, that they matter.

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