It’s a myth of leadership that you can ever truly motivate anyone. Fear and incentive motivation initiatives are short term in their impact. They may work for a while, but they are not effective in the long run. The truth about motivation is that it must come from within for it to be long term and sustainable.

During the pandemic, many people have suffered from a lack of motivation. A major cause of this state of mind is how uncertain the near future is in this environment. It’s like we have been robbed of hope. Will we be able to visit our parents in a nursing home? Will we have a job by Christmas? Will be healthy a month from now? Will we be able to take that trip we planned? Will we be able to enjoy our favorite sports team play in person? Will our kids be back to and happy in school? Will we be able to entertain friends and neighbors in our homes? All these questions degrade hope and our sense of purpose. It can make us throw up our hands and say, “What’s the point?” We’re seeing that the consequences of loss of purpose aren’t just debilitating, they’re downright deadly, beyond the outcome of the disease itself.

This circumstance is a reminder of the basics of motivation for all of us. On a personal level, we are highly motivated when we are more connected to a purpose or goal. Unfortunately, usually that connection is in terms of time or urgency. We plan to paint the guest room for over a year, and finally get it done a week before the guests arrive. We tell ourselves we want to lose weight, and finally make it happen just in time for our daughter’s wedding. Without urgency, goals seem to be too distant. This is why so many can lose hope in a time like this when we have no control of the timeline. Although urgency forces us to feel a connection to the goal, real achievement is based on keeping that connection close even when the goal is not urgent.

Despite the circumstances, we can have a positive impact on our self-motivation. For our personal goals during uncertainty, we shouldn’t give up on what’s truly important to us. We may just need to make some modifications. It is key to focus on the “why” of the goal, and not the “when.” If the goal is truly important to us, the timing isn’t as critical because we can still benefit from the process of trying to get there.

As a leader, one of the most powerful things you can do to create a motivational climate for your people is to effectively communicate and reinforce the purpose of the work. And according to research, it is evident that we can all do a better job of that. According to a recent study by Strategy&:

  • Only 28% of employees felt a connection to their company’s purpose, and
  • Only 39% said they could clearly see the value they create in their organization

However, when the purpose is clearly defined, and the way a company creates value is clearly communicated:

  • 63% of employees say they are motivated
  • 65% of employees say they’re passionate about their work

The bottom line? 90% of those companies that are clearer about their purpose and communicate it more effectively deliver growth and profits at or above the industry average. Which company and employees would you prefer to work with?

As leaders, we have the opportunity to reframe and articulate the purpose of the work for our teams and how each person contributes to delivering value. Once a clear purpose is defined, we as leaders need to make sure it’s communicated often and reinforced by our actions and behaviors consistently. We must show them we share the purpose as well. This is the benchmark of good coaching.

We can use these strategies whether it be for ourselves when we are trying to achieve something individually, or as we lead and manage others to accomplish organizational goals. A clear purpose effectively stated and clearly communicated, and a connection to that purpose creates the type of motivation that is powerful, effective, and long-lasting.

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