Leadership is one of those things that we all would like to be great at but we often fall short of. Life just seems to get in the way at times. I asked myself why is that?

I found two quotes, one very old and one more current, which I think encapsulate something that is a critical issue for us as leaders.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists… when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say: ‘We did it ourselves.’”
Lao-Tzu, an ancient philosopher and founder of Taoism

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”
Sheryl Sanberg, COO of Facebook

How do you make that happen? The days of people blindly doing what they are told are long gone – if they ever existed at all? There are three key elements to getting people to do tasks that they don’t want to do. Motivating them to work ‘for the greater good’ is tricky. The key is in the second quote. If you do this right, they will continue to do the right thing even when you are not watching. If they “get” why they have to do it and how that contributes to the big picture, they will willingly do it.

1. Allow them to see the big picture

Invest the time to allow people to see how their role contributes to the whole organisation. Create a picture of how the company’s services and/or products contribute to the wider community. I used to work in a factory making plastic bags. I would talk about how our product allowed New Zealand to get our meat products across the world in the best condition possible. What the staff did was so much more than just making another box of bags. The wider community relied on them to do a great job so that others could excel at theirs.

2. WIIFM (What’s In It For Me)?

Spend time to understand what it is like in the shoes of your employees and what’s in it for them. How does what you are asking them to do contribute to them meeting their own needs and wants? Sometimes this can be simple; working for a successful company secures their income and provides opportunities to learn new skills and grow so they can ultimately earn more. Once you understand their motivation, it will be evident how you can help use it. If growth and new skill acquisition are front-of-mind, then providing more training and mentoring could prove very beneficial.

3. Let them be creative about how they achieve the required result

Avoid being too prescriptive about the method. It is the result that you want to achieve. Give your employees the space to use their initiative. Empower them to work out how best to achieve the result. Just make sure they have a good understanding of the boundaries before you set them off.


Try it – allow staff to see the big picture, take time to understand their motivation and then allow them to be creative with how they achieve the results required of them. Providing you have the right staff (and that’s a whole other blog topic) you will notice almost immediate results. Not only to productivity but to staff engagement, loyalty and innovation. It’s win-win and you’re on the path to becoming a better leader.

One final quote I’d like to leave you with…

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” –Rosalynn Carter, Jimmy Carter’s wife and life long supporter of equal rights.

By Russell Bacon | Business Advisor

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