To say that these are trying times is perhaps an understatement. The spread of Covid-19 has created a global scenario that’s unprecedented in modern times. In a matter of weeks, we’ve all had to contend with the jarring shift in how individuals communicate and how organisations operate.

Social distancing, community quarantine, and complete lockdowns have now become part of our reality, and that’s on top of rapid digital transformation. Now more than ever, it’s become an imperative to draw deep into our reserves of emotional intelligence to continue growing.

Given the current situation, it’s understandable for managers to get caught up with delivering output and producing results. With their focus constantly fixed on the bottom line, many simply couldn’t appreciate the true significance of their role.

For some, applying their skills to the job and meeting their personal needs seem to be enough—either to gratify their ego or deflect pressure from them. In so doing they miss out on the key measure of their success: the ability to cultivate leadership skills among their team members.

The first step to sustaining high performance in an organisationis engaging your team.
Effective managers are leaders who are capable of developing the self-esteem of their team members and creating other leaders in the process.

Thinking of an instance where managers failed to lead with influence, I’m reminded of the time I was at a major 5-star hotel, waiting behind a buffet dinner carvery for someone to offer me some service.

One individual, who turned out to be the manager, called out to one of the staff loudly, reprimanding them for leaving their station. From the looks of the staff, it was plain to see how embarrassed they were.

In that moment of public humiliation, the staff’s self-confidence must’ve plummeted; and along with it, their trust in the person they saw as their leader. It was natural for the manager to be dismayed at the staff, especially where a customer is concerned.

However, the way they reacted showed a lack of empathy—a wasted opportunity to engage their team. The manager could have popped behind the counter to serve when the staff weren’t around—a good opportunity to teach by example, to lead with influence.

Imagine how that must’ve boosted the team’s morale. Imagine the missed opportunities to learn the root cause of such behavior—the restaurant could’ve been understaffed, perhaps the staff’s training was inadequate, or the policies could use improvement.

I often remind my clients that their customer’s enthusiasm about their business seldom exceeds that of their staff. Serve your staff, treat them like you would your best customers, and great customer service will follow.

The level of your people’s engagement and effectiveness is determined significantly by the level of trust, quality of relationships and their skills to influence, negotiate and manage conflict with stakeholders in the absence of authority.

So, how engaged are the members of your team? Of your myriad roles as a manager, where do coaching, developing, and engaging stand in terms of priorities? In motivating your team to rally behind a shared goal, simple asserting your authority is very seldom effective, if at all.

To create a highly-engaged workforce or project team, you must first understand what motivates your people. Does their motivation come solely from a high salary? A promotion? Better working conditions? Benefits? Fair company policies?

A cross-cultural study conducted by Herzberg (HBR: One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees, 1987) found that such hygiene factors were important in avoiding staff dissatisfaction but did nothing to create staff satisfaction. What did motivate people were a sense of achievement, recognition, growth, responsibility, advancement, and the work itself.

Dan Pink articulates this powerfully in his talk The Surprising Science of Motivation. He notes that carrot-and-stick incentives (extrinsic) works well for a very narrow band of activities, at best. In most cases, these have a detrimental impact to human performance. Pink lists the true motivators of high performance as Autonomy, Growth and Purpose.

To bring out the best in your team and get the most out of their performance, it’s intrinsic motivators that are the most powerful. Extrinsic factors may succeed in pushing or pulling people into action, but they don’t actually motivate and are not at all sustainable.

True motivation needs to come from within. It goes beyond our need to satisfy our lower-level needs for security or certainty. Genuine motivation it satisfies our higher-order needs: growth, a sense of achievement, and purpose.

To help your team perform at their optimum, Patrick Lencioni—in his book The Three Signs of a Miserable Job—listed three strategies that are equally practical and powerful:

1. Measurement – for your staff to perform at their very best, they need to be able to gauge their progress and contribution for themselves. Imagine playing a game of tennis and not knowing what the score was. People love to compete and win, and are driven by a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Design, communicate, and get an agreement with each staff member as to what meaningful and relevant measures could help all parties determine when they’re succeeding. Such measures need to be something they know they directly have an ability to impact. As a team, regularly review these yardsticks of success to celebrate wins and highlight areas of improvement.

2. Relevance – your staff will give their best when they know that what they’re doing is purposeful; when they feel that what they do makes a difference. Help them understand and emotionalise for themselves the importance of their role and the difference they make—not only on the team’s outcomes but on the people whose livelihood and working enjoyment are impacted by their efforts and contributions!

3. Appreciation – People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known, or if they feel like they’re just a number, an anonymous entity, a “generic” team member. Take time out to truly get to know your employees or project team members. Show a genuine desire to know the person within—their hopes, aspirations, fears, and background—and acknowledge the contribution they are making to the team.

Remember, success is a journey, not a destination. At the end of your journey, would you like to be remembered as a manager who delivered results, climbed the ranks, and worked long and hard? Or as someone who helped shape lives and make a difference in someone else’s journey?

As managers, you hold in your hand the choice to be remembered as a leader through whose efforts the organisation prospered and became a far better place to work in. In these times of strife and challenges, kindness is a triumph of the human spirit.

Let’s take this journey together. Now is the time to be the very best we can be!