It’s amazing how many managers claim, “It’s not my job to get people to want to work here. It’s not my responsibility to motivate them. They are either motivated or they’re not.”

Lean back in your chair; close your eyes; and think about a time when you were working in the zone — the WOW zone — loving the job you were doing so much that you would have done it for free if you had some other way to pay the bills.

That’s motivation.

The WOW Zone

Now, think about what or who made that experience happen. That kind of motivation usually has little to do with the typical employee motivation strategies some organizations rely on, such as awarding top achievers with a personal parking spot, engraving the name of an “Employee of the Month” on a plaque or competing in team-building games at a company event.

The WOW moments in your work life, those times when you feel tremendous satisfaction, pride and self worth, the times when you are so thoroughly engaged that you completely lose track of time, happen every day in “WOW factor” workplaces.

How? Employees feel that they truly belong at their workplace. They understand what they do matters, and they know their efforts are appreciated. Moreover, “best-ever” bosses dedicate themselves to creating such an environment. It’s what real leadership is all about.

A former senior vice president of customers for Southwest Airlines, the late Teresa Laraba explained it this way: “As a leader, it is your responsibility to make sure the workplace is as engaging and welcoming as it can be. There does have to be a core sense in individuals that motivates them to come to work. They must want to get up in the morning and want to live their life,” Laraba clarified, “and no, it’s not my responsibility to make those people who are unhappy in their lives happy.”

She added, “But it is my responsibility when people come to work, and they’ve done their part, to make sure I’m doing my part. I’m ensuring the environment’s engaging and I’m showing my Servant’s Heart in my leadership to them.”

How can managers create and maintain an engaging and welcoming work environment, the kind of workplace where team members are intrinsically motivated each day? Through heartfelt leadership.

What Is Heartfelt Leadership?

Heartfelt leadership is not soft, wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve emotional behavior. It’s strong and committed leadership. It’s touching hearts, building trust and letting team members know you care about their success. It’s being courageous enough to establish relationships with individual team members so that they feel comfortable expressing their career desires without fear of ridicule or retribution.

Heartfelt leaders understand that they create intrinsic motivation when team members can work to achieve their own personal aspirations while working to achieve the organization’s vision and objectives. “WOW zone” motivation happens when team members are doing what they love to do to, to the best of their abilities, and know they are appreciated for delivering value in their own unique way.

Heartfelt Leadership Conversations

How can managers display heartfelt leadership? By engaging in meaningful dialog with each team member on a regular basis; by listening to understand their concerns and aspirations; and by exploring together creative ways to fulfill the organization’s mission and objectives while enabling team members to become the best they can be, doing the kind of work they long to do.

It’s important to schedule private one-on-one time for such conversations. Managers should try to accommodate team members’ time preferences and communication styles, acknowledging that some may prefer to establish a fixed time each week, while others may prefer to pop in for a quick update as project schedules permit.

Meeting face to face helps build trust. If managers and team members have the luxury of meeting in person, they should sit next to each other rather than across the desk from each other (which tends to relegate the team member to a subordinate position). When managing remote team members, managers should try to meet in person occasionally, as budgets permit. Otherwise, video conferencing technology can mimic face-to-face conversations. Observing the other person’s facial expressions and body language is just as important as hearing what he or she says.

The point is to create a feeling of partnership, where both parties can feel as comfortable as possible engaging in a two-way “I’m here to help you achieve your vision of success” mentoring-like discussion. Together, the manager and the team member can strategize ways the organization could better leverage his or her skill sets and passions while moving the organization closer to its goals.

Working Toward a Common Goal

The result of these heartfelt conversations might necessitate a realignment of responsibilities among team members, prompt a transfer of personnel between departments or require a move outside the organization. Ultimately, with both parties working toward a common goal, even if it means helping the teammate find employment elsewhere, magic can happen, and everyone can win.

Garry Ridge, chief executive officer of the WD-40 Company, described it this way: “We’re a public company. If you look at our track record over the years, we’ve got a pretty enviable growth rate of profit and return. We didn’t do that by leaving people on the sidelines. We did it by creating an environment where we allowed people to perform their own personal magnificence daily.”

Ridge went on to say, “I think belonging is the biggest driver. Belonging has to have proof. People feel like they belong here, not because they are welcome each day, but because we are doing things every day to help them be better.”

Real motivation happens when people are proactively encouraged to perform their own personal magnificence every day. It’s not about fitting into a required set of skills defined in a documented job description. It’s about enabling team members to be the best they can be, do what they love to do, and know what they do makes a valuable difference both to them and the organization.

So, yes, it is the responsibility of managers at every level to create and maintain an environment that produces this kind of motivation. It’s the most important (and can be the most rewarding) responsibility a manager has.

It’s also how WOW factor workplaces — best places to work — are made.

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