Employee engagement is fundamental to corporate success, and is tied directly to leadership. Yet among American workers, only one third is engaged in — “enthusiastic about and committed to” — their work.
One way to increase engagement is to make work more meaningful. In a recent New York Times column entitled “Rethinking Work,” psychologist Barry Schwartz contends that for most employees, a sense of meaning and purpose in their work is just as important as a paycheck.
When we work with executive coaching clients, we often explore ways in which they can inspire their team members as a way to breathe new life into stagnant, sluggish or deteriorating departments.
Motivation Versus Inspiration
While both are designed to yield positive results, there is a subtle difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is an umbrella term that encompasses the reasons that direct a person’s behavior or actions.
Inspiration might be considered a driver of motivation, fed by emotions, values, self-perceptions and desires. Consider the feelings evoked by the messages delivered by a powerful commencement speech, religious sermon or political rally. When people are inspired, they are moved to become better, stronger versions of themselves.
As a leader, you have the power to inspire, helping your team members find more meaning in — and ultimately, becoming more engaged in — their work.
Executive Coaching Best Practices to Inspire Your Team
When executive coaching clients ask us how they can inspire team members, we often start with these suggestions:
- Tell a story — What better way to teach a child about the power of perseverance and a positive attitude than through the classic story of The Little Engine That Could? Whether fables or real-life anecdotes, stories evoke imagination and emotion. They can be far more inspirational than often-vanilla sounding words of encouragement like “keep going” or “be strong.”
- Keep the bar high — People generally rise to the expectations that you set for them. Maintaining accountability not only helps boost team morale, but also shows that you hold each team member responsible for his or her own actions. It also sends the message that you know they are capable. Prove that you trust their judgment by resisting the urge to micromanage, but provide constructive feedback to help each employee grow as a professional.
- Share the vision — We encourage our executive coaching clients to be transparent about company big-picture goals. When employees understand the company’s mission, they have the opportunity to contribute to it, in any way they can. Instead of referring to the company as “they,” team members embrace a “we” mentality when they feel like their work has a meaningful impact.
- Recognize and appreciate — Too often, it’s the numbers — rather than the people — that get recognized, posted and celebrated in weekly sales meetings. And while that might motivate some, it does little to move the vast majority of non-sales personnel. On the other hand, individual recognition for a job well done (“Ana, that proposal you created looks amazing!”) or appreciation for extra effort expended (“Jake, I noticed you came in early three days last week”) can go a long way to inspire people to keep giving their best. Catch someone doing something right and acknowledge them for it. “Thank you” remains a magic word.
- Make it personal — From opportunities to attend relevant networking events or conferences and seminars, show your team members that you care about their individual professional growth and development. When possible, divide work assignments to fit the personalities, interests and abilities of your team members. Invite their input on cases or projects in which you think they might have an opinion based on similar life situations or circumstances.
- Welcome guests — Showcase success stories from industry experts, leaders or veterans willing to share their tales of triumphs and best practices with your team. Any guest — with an uplifting story or a stirring need — has the potential to inspire your team to action.