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What leaders need to do

What leaders need to do

Leadership development experts Bill Hawkins and Susan Fowler raised the bar at BT MindRush with their incisive insights and advice on leadership dos and don'ts, and on motivating employees.

Leadership development expert Bill Hawkins (left) and motivation guru Susan Fowler at BT MindRush (Photo: Shekhar Ghosh) Leadership development expert Bill Hawkins (left) and motivation guru Susan Fowler at BT MindRush (Photo: Shekhar Ghosh)

On December 19, the day Susan Fowler spoke at BT MindRush, she was trending on Twitter. Someone asked her how she felt. "I am thrilled because social media is the thing I came into sub-optimally motivated to do and now I understand the power of it," she said. In an animated act, she punched the air with her right hand, and shrieked, "Ya-hoo!".

FULL COVERAGE: MindRush 2015

Over the course of her talk, leadership and motivation expert Fowler drew up a list of what doesn't work and what does when it comes to motivating employees. She debunked many traditional ideas of getting work done - the traditional thinking on motivation was in terms of quantity - incentivise employees and get them to do what you want; apply pressure, demand accountability, rely on power, focus on metrics, at times without meaning.

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Chances are, all these lead to a sub-optimal motiva- tional outlook that translates into an opportunity loss in terms of creativity, productivity, sick days and absenteeism. People's sense of wellbeing could be threatened.

Motivation has a spectrum, she said. There are three sub-optimal outlooks - 'disinterested', 'external' and 'imposed'. At the optimal level, there are 'aligned', 'integrated', and 'inherent' outlooks. To shift leaders and employees from a sub-optimal to an optimal outlook requires the meeting of high-quality psychological needs with self-regulation.

Also read: The contrarian view

Psychological thriving, she elaborated, depends on the concepts of autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Autonomy is not the same as freedom. "It is the perception of choice; it is the perception that you are doing something because you choose to, not because of outward circumstances, or pressure, because pressure and tension can erode productivity," she said. Relatedness is the human need to care about people, find meaning in the work they do. It is about inter-personal relationships. Fowler thinks relatedness can be destroyed by focusing on metrics without meaning. "If you are numbers-driven, make sure people understand the meaning behind those numbers - what's in it for them," she said.

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Competence is about focusing on training and learning. "Ask people every day, what did you learn? Not just, what did you do?" she said. This psychological need can be easily killed, for instance, by bringing training expenditure costs down during economic hardship. If the three psychological needs are not met, it could end up abusing the three biological needs - food, water and sex - which, in turn, would impact an employees wellbeing.

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But guess what happens when these needs are met? "If every day, employees have a greater sense of autonomy, relatedness and competence, they will have optimal motivation. Research shows then they are going to be more productive, sell more, and over time, become more engaged," Fowler said.

Of course, the psychological needs have to be coupled with self-regulation, where an employee proactively manages his feelings and attitudes. Fowler's model talks of promoting self-regulation through 'mindfulness' or helping people understand 'why' they are doing what they are doing, aligning values and the purpose.

That could help the transition to optimal motivation, akin to Fowler's understanding of social medias power.

The second thought provoking talk at MindRush came from Bill Hawkins, a leadership development expert, who elaborated on the challenges effective leaders run into. It turns out that the "I-can-succeed" mindset of the successful has its downsides. Here's why:

1. Most successful people in the team resist change. They have great belief in previous successes, and tend to be delusional and superstitious.

2. Successful executives also tend to overrate their performance. At the same time, they may discount opinions of people who dont match up to their worldviews.

3. Successful people are optimists - optimism is a key predictor of success. But optimists tend to over-commit. Chances are, if you over commit, you may under deliver.

Hawkins came up with a to-avoid list for leaders: passing judgement on others; starting conversations with "No", "But" or "However"; telling the world how smart you are; speaking when angry; withholding information; not giving proper recognition; passing the buck.

Invaluable tips for every leader.