September 29, Disengaged Followers, and Human Nature -- Motivation, Part 1

Yesterday morning I was in a nationally known food establishment whose profits are highly dependent on coffee sales. I won’t say who it was exactly, but I will say #1) it wasn’t Starbucks, and #2) it’s name rhymes with Unkin’ Onuts. So there I was, minding my own breakfast, when I heard a couple of the establishment’s employees talking about a quickly approaching date. The date they spoke of was September 29…or as it has been named here in the United States, “National Coffee Day.”

It is easy to see how such a day would be an important business opportunity for an organization whose bottom line is heavily dependent on coffee sales. It would be logical to have the entire organization fully engaged in this brand-promoting, profit-feeding, job-creating moment. But that was not what I heard from these employees. Instead, I heard them lamenting its existence.

It’s understandable that these employees weren’t looking forward to the busyness that “National Coffee Day” will surely hold for them. It’s reasonable that, in exchange for a rate of pay somewhere between minimum wage and $12 per hour, they weren’t valuing the connection between the work of that day and their opportunity to have a job.

Not Acceptable

Just because their disengagement is understandable and reasonable doesn’t mean it should be acceptable to us as leaders. I don’t say that as if we should be puffed-up leaders, demanding those who follow us to “get engaged…OR ELSE!” (That, by the way, is the opposite of true engagement.)

What isn’t acceptable is us. We as leaders can’t let ourselves off the hook. We must be both creative and thoughtful in how we invite engagement from our followers even when their disengagement is understandable and reasonable. It is our responsibility as leaders to ignite the latent motivations within those we lead. It is our job to move them a step or two or twenty toward becoming deeply motivated and engaged.

Tapping In

Over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring the world of motivation. What it is. How it works. And what our responsibilities are as leaders to spur it into action. As we enter this exploration, know this: in the history of humanity there has never been a single little boy or little girl who said, “When I grow up, I want to be a disengaged and unmotivated follower.” As humans, we are naturally seeded with bigger desires than that. This is good news for us as leaders. Our job, then, is not to create motivation that doesn’t exist, but to unearth it and breath life into it. When we do, it will not only benefit us and the endeavors and companies we lead, but it will benefit those we lead as well.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be a motivational few weeks.

photo credit: Morning Jo via photopin(license)

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