The Art of Leadership - Creating a Motivating Environment

There are many theories about leadership but one of the most telling is a quote attributed to Dwight D Eisenhower: ‘Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.’ The last six words are the key – however tactically brilliant you are as a leader, however inspired your decisions, you are not going to get anywhere unless you can persuade people to follow you.

Motivating employees, and sustaining that motivation over your term as leader, is a major challenge for leaders in all fields. As recently as 50 years ago, the vogue was for ‘command and control’ leadership – persuading people to do want you want, in other words, through fear. These days, the most successful leaders appeal to far more positive human emotions.

The leadership academic John Kotter argues that leaders have to appeal to basic but often untapped human needs, values and emotions – we all feel a need for achievement, recognition, self-esteem and a feeling of control over our lives, he argues, and appealing to these emotions can elicit a powerful response. That said, during our research for What Do Leaders Really Do?, it quickly became apparent that truly motivational leaders, who know how to tap into human emotions, are born and not made. Of the 17 leaders we spoke to in the fields of business, sport and the military, a handful could be described as natural inspirational leaders (one or two, in fact, admitted that it was their predominant skill). Others found that they had to work much harder at motivation – but all had found their own path, with excellent results.

Overall, motivation within an organisation is linked to a number of factors and employees will tend to be motivated if:• They believe in the vision, direction or objectives of the organisation and its leader• They feel they are trusted and have been well-informed• They have been presented with challenging but achievable goals• They feel their organisation cares for their welfare.

These four points are, if you like, basic requirements for a motivated workforce but can nevertheless be a challenge for some leaders. Trusting people to do their job was seen by the leaders we spoke to as a fundamental element of motivation, but that also meant that the leader should be willing to accept that mistakes will be made. ‘Motivation is about convincing people that they are capable of great things,’ Greg Dyke told us. ‘You can only create that sort of environment by allowing people to get on with it and if it all goes wrong, so what? It’s about fear – you have to reduce the fear in their lives.’

As well as accepting that mistakes will be made, the recognition and celebration of success is a vital element of motivation. Kotter argues that rewarding successes gives employees a sense of accomplishment and helps them feel like they belong in an organisation. Typically, the leaders we spoke to put this view into practice. Greg Dyke, for instance, told us that he consciously made time while director-general of the BBC to celebrate with employees when something had gone well. ‘On the Monday morning following the concert we covered to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee, for instance, I came into the office and sent a quick email to everyone saying, wasn’t that wonderful? Didn’t we do well? It’s important to say it.’ Sue Campbell, head of UK Sport, takes the same view: ‘If someone handles themselves really well in a meeting I will bang on their door and say, well done, good job. It doesn’t matter if you’re a six-year-old milk monitor or 60 years of age, it’s good reinforcement when someone says you’ve done a good job.’

Several of the leaders we spoke to made the point that it is much easer for a group of people to pull together if they face a common adversary, or if they are facing possible failure. Martin Johnson, who captained the World Cup-winning England rugby team in 2003 and is now the team’s manager, told us that it was much more difficult to keep his team motivated at half time if they were winning than if they were losing.

In this spirit, Martin Glenn, the former president of PepsiCo UK and now CEO of Birds Eye Iglo group, said that he has often applied a tactic of creating an enemy or a target, if no obvious one was available. When he became chief executive of Birds Eye, for instance, it was one of the largest frozen food companies in Europe. ‘What benefit have any of us gained from being the biggest in Europe?’ he asked. ‘We needed an enemy fast and that enemy was chilled food – it’s a much bigger market that frozen food. It’s much more fun being an underdog in a turnaround situation than it is being the big beast. Terry Leahy [CEO of Tesco] talks about this all the time,’ he told us. ‘When you get to the top of the tree, what you have to do is define the forest as the next target. It’s always about giving people targets.’

Occasionally, a leader will emerge who could be described as purely inspirational, and we found one in Kevin Roberts, worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi. Kevin’s leadership style is distinctive, but entirely natural – it would be virtually impossible for anyone to emulate it because it is, simply, what Kevin does. And in Saatchi’s highly creative market, it works well.

While Kevin’s language may not sit well within other organisations (he told us, for instance, that ‘the key to great companies is to unleash your people and inspire them against a dream to be the best they can be’), Saatchi & Saatchi take, in fact, a structured and methodical approach to the inspirational environment. ‘You can nurture inspiration, you can demand it and you can coach it,’ is how Kevin Roberts puts it. ‘We all want to work for something bigger than a pay cheque or producing a new laundry detergent,’ he said. ‘The role of a leader is to share a dream and to provide a space where people can gain responsibility, can be recognised, can work and can have fun.’

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