In Leadership

By Maura Fay Learning

This is part two of a two part series. We recommend that you read Part one first. 

Manager or BFF?

Continuing our discussion around motivating and supporting team members to high performance that we started in the previous article.

So we all agree that tapping into intrinsic motivation produces a much more effective result. It also requires substantially higher investment of time and energy from the leader or manager to get to know your team as individuals (relationship), to explore their values and their personal goals and align them to those of the organisation (Purpose), to create a leadership relationship built on trust that supports and empowers them (Autonomy) and create a space in which they can stretch, strive and achieve (Mastery).

It’s time to consider whether that pendulum has swung too far. Do we focus too hard on engaging, relating to, and tapping into intrinsic motivation of our team members? Do we do so much Managing by Wandering About that there’s no time left for Managing by Sitting at your Desk? Are we expecting workplaces and leaders to focus too much on strategically influencing the intrinsic and emotional motivators of employees to achieve high performance? Are employees really so deep and complex that leaders need to have a Masters of Psychology and spend their lives hearing about, and flexing around, every issue they ever encounter? And at what point does the influencing of intrinsic motivations become the manipulation of them? Really could we sometimes could take a more Nike approach of, ‘Hey it’s your job, just do it’?

A similar debate is happening in child-raising which some of you may have encountered, either as a parent or a child. The pendulum of supposed ‘best-practice’ approach for raising children has swung: from all-competitive with one winner (never me J) to the point of everyone getting a participation prize: the ruthless-but-necessary-to-toughen-them-up approach vs. positive psychology psycho-babble. Now we are questioning whether we are pandering, cotton-wool-wrapping, and asking about the longer-term consequences of ‘every child wins a prize’; so that pendulum is heading back towards the centre. Should we be doing the same with the adults in the workplace?

There may be situations, or people, where the older-style ‘Carrot and Stick’ Theory X is a more effective option. It may be more effective in absolute terms, or when you measure effectiveness as ROI on the manager’s investment of time and effort. Sales teams, for example, often work on a simple motivator, called ‘commission’. Is high performance successfully developed through such a straightforward relationship to the individual’s wallet? Could we achieve more through other motivational strategies? And at the other end of the spectrum, how do you motivate a team of creatives to high performance, when the actual definition of high performance could be extremely grey, and there’s potentially a great deal of emotional energy included into their output? Is it through your personally connected relationship with them, by you knowing so much about their lives that you can press the right buttons? Pink cited experiments where subjects were measured on individual tasks; how do those findings relate to ongoing performance over multiple tasks and years of tenure?

In Pink’s cited studies of the correlations between size of financial reward and level of performance, the higher reward size did not create a performance increase, and in fact the largest reward caused a substantial drop in performance. In the same way, is it possible for leaders to overdo the knowing, caring and connecting, and cause a similar loss of performance?

The diagram below explores this theme. The two axes are emotional connection (horizontal) and self-management (vertical). Theory Y/Motivation 3.0 thinking recommends we work at developing our leadership relationships by moving left to right along the horizontal axis, i.e. increasing our relationship, our emotional connection with our team member.

Yet we also need to move upwards along the vertical axis to develop self-management or else we could ‘care too much’. Empathy is great, but being overly caught in team members’ lives can sap a leader’s ability to inspire, to lead, to have the tough conversations, to keep a clear sense of the vision, the destination and the path to get there. So as we build our emotional connection, we also need to build our own self-management to keep a sense of objectivity and an eye on the ball.

In our next article, we’ll explore the organisational context of EQ.

This blog is an excerpt from our latest eBook, ‘The Emotional Intelligence Playbook’, which can be downloaded by clicking the link below.

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