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16 August 2005

Motivation and the role of leadership

I once worked for a Not for Profit organisation. It was formerly a government department. It's primary revenue sources are government contracts that it bids for on regular cycles. The federal and state governments award the relevant contracts based upon cost and quality measures. Recently it lost a significant share of it’s Employment business because it failed to meet the minimum quality standards for contract roll-over, and then, when bidding for new business, failed to win back the contract due to a high cost base.

The board and management identified the need to change from the old public service mentality to a new, more corporate, focus. A new CEO was hired to implement the required changes. The new CEO identified several areas for change and developed a 10-year strategy with an immediate 3-year action plan to enable the organisation to effectively move into the future. Shortly afterwards a small team of change agents were hired and placed into some key support roles (such as procurement, and project management.) Unfortunately the CEO did not manage some of the cultural issues of the workplace well and was fired after a dispute with the board. Over 6 months later a new CEO has not been found.

The organisation was poised for significant change, perhaps at a rate that it was not ready for, and the leader of that change was now gone. After the CEO left there were still a number of people who shared the CEO’s vision and are working to the agenda he set out, and while the change effort has stalled, it has not stopped. The vision of where the business needs to go remained and there was commitment from a cadre of influential people to achieve it. The challenge for the change agents left behind is how to motivate and lead in the absence of the CEO.

Joyce, Nohira and Roberson (2004) surveyed thousands of businesses over three decades and observed that having a performance based culture is a critical success factor, and to achieve that there are four essential ingredients; leadership need to inspire the workforce, people need to be rewarded for the work they do, and challenged and interested in it, and organisations need to have a clear of values. Kelly et al discuss values further and identify that they need to be aligned with the objectives of both management and the workforce to be truly effective.

Joyce et al’s research breaks down the key success factors of leadership as delivering a vision, setting standards and nurturing loyalty from employees towards their team and the organisation. In terms of delivering those leadership attributes Goleman discusses the need for leaders to have emotional intelligence (EQ), and that key attributes of emotional intelligence enable leaders to ‘move people in the direction of accomplishing [the] company’s goals.’

At this workplace the change agents the CEO put in place before his departure are in positions where they can and are exerting leadership in their areas of influence. Their motivation to maintain this focus appears to be because of the way they are personally motivated.

Goleman discusses the attributes of EQ and identifies that internal motivation is a core element of a leader’s success. He suggests leaders are motivated by a passion for the work itself, rather than money or prestige, optimism and perseverance. I can relate to this as in each of the changes I have made in my career I have made based upon a desire to learn, and for the opportunities to improve the workplace I am going to, which is why most of the jobs I have had are about implementing changes. I find that I am always looking at how things that I have done worked and assessing whether things could have been done better in an effort to continually improve my performance. I also like to know how my performance is going measured against others and the value it brings to the organisation which is he second main attribute Goleman suggests leaders motivation is made up from – a need to know how you are performing against external factors.

So at the moment, while the CEO issue is unresolved, the org is making the best of the leaders it has inside the organisation. Mid level managers are making changes internally to their departments, and in relation to how their departments deal with other parts of the organisation, focussing on the vision and values the CEO articulated before he left. They are motivating their staff through those three key leadership elements; vision, example and values, and they are using their emotional intelligence to assess the best way to get people to fall into line with the objectives and changes they are pursuing. This falls very much in lie with a lot of current management writing in magazines, newspapers, etc about how critical having the right team is to success. The CEO’s job appears to be to hire the right leaders at the top and get them to reproduce the model down their chain of command. Motivated leaders who have emotional intelligence seem to be able to do this, and to be able to get the best out of the people who are already in the workplace.

- Joyce, Nohira and Roberson, ‘What (really) works; the 4+2 formula for sustained business success’ Harper Business NY 2004
- Chris Kelly, Paul Kocourek, Nancy McGaw, Judith Samuelson, (2005) ‘Deriving Value from Corporate Values’ The Aspen Institute and Booz, Alllen, Hamilton, from 14 May 2005
- Daniel Goleman, ‘What makes a leader’ Harvard Business Review Nov-Dec 1998