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Do you know why you lead?

By Mary Schaefer:

Years ago my boss and I were talking about a controversial decision within the company. We in HR were charged with presenting it. It was not going be well received by the employee community.

This news I could handle. The bigger issue for me was how the message was delivered to me. When we as HR professionals were notified of the decision, it was suggested we might over-empathize with employees, and in turn, look like we were not supporting the company’s decision. It felt like a “no confidence” vote to me.

I talked with my boss about it. His response was this question, “You don’t want to deliver these presentations?” I explained that I absolutely would. My concern was the assumption that we as HR professionals would not deliver the message like the professionals we were.

In the context of our discussion, I explicitly remember saying, “It’s the principle of the thing.” With that my boss stood up and shrugged it off, saying, “Oh, it’s the principle of the thing.” From his tone I could tell he viewed my point as a non-issue as long as we got the job done. For me there was still the issue of how the message was delivered to me.

The reason you lead affects the quality and effectiveness of how you lead. 

There was a clash of motivations between my boss and me. I was looking for something from him he couldn’t relate to. As leaders it’s important for us to understand our own motivations and their effect on those who look to us for leadership.

What motivates you as a leader? Know your strengths and blind spots.

 Sometimes we are so close to our motivations, we assume everyone thinks the same way and does their work for the same reasons. We can also judge others wrongly based on our assumptions about their motivations.

As a leader, it’s important to know what motivates you, how it serves you, how it helps you meet your objectives, and also how your motivational focus can work against you.

From my experience, I’ve noticed that leaders gravitate to one of 3 motivations.

 Achievement as motivation.

When you perform well, increasing levels of responsibility and challenge motivate you. You enjoy being rewarded with promotions and valuable opportunities. You get to the place where you are able to contribute in line with your vision for yourself.

If you overdo it, you may be doing your employees a disservice. Are you cultivating an environment where they aren’t motivated in their distinctive ways? In this way, you can end up under-serving your organization. You only leverage how you work and not the variety of motivations of your employees.

Accomplishment – getting stuff done (e.g. my boss in that conversation I described).

You feel a payoff when your steady focus helps keep the organization funded, or retain the right to operate, or meet its commitments. You are proud because you know how to drive for results despite obstacles.

If you don’t consider other motivations regularly, you and your employees can quickly suffer from burnout or disengagement.

Creating a great workplace for employees.

Your first thought is how decisions will involve and impact your employees. You are willing to go the extra mile to make sure your employees have the information and resources they need. They are more likely to engage fully and focus on the job to at hand.

An imbalance in this area can trip you up. While you are trying to meet employee needs, the needs of the organization may take a backseat. You can get bogged down working through employee needs and complaints. That’s time you could spend meeting organization goals.

 There’s not one right way to be.

Each of my 3 examples of motivations has its benefits and pitfalls. The key is not to make you over, but for you to know what is effective in different situations. It’s essential to know what you are chartered to deliver. And, it’s vital to understand how your motivations impact you, and those around you, to get it done. Why do you lead?

Mary C. Schaefer is a coach, trainer, consultant and speaker who helps develop a culture of engagement and empowerment with managers and employees. She specializes in manager/employee interactions with organizations employing engineers, scientists and IT professionals, helping managers/owners successfully coach employees to tap into their own initiative and resourcefulness to deliver results. Mary’s mission is to create work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive.

Click here to see Mary’s talk at TEDx Wilmington (DE) 2014 titled, “Putting the Human Back Into Human Resources.”

Go here to see Mary’s articles at LinkedIn.

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