Leadership rule number one

Tons of books have been written on leadership. There are dozens of styles and concepts, each with a nice name tag attached. Maybe that is why so many managers are confused about ground rules of leadership today.  Here is my leadership rule #1:

People should feel better when doing the right thing than when doing the wrong thing.

It is so simple you may actually have over-read it. Take the time and read it again. Slowly!

Now first of all: why should this be right? Because people tend to avoid things that make them feel bad. And they tend to crave what makes them feel good (chocolate, sports or the occasional pat on the back by the manager). And why should you know this as a manager? Because it is your job to make sure that your team members feel that way.


Motivation Pritchard and Ashwood

Motivation process (Emma Wagner,CC BY-SA 3.0)

Pritchard and Ashwood explain motivation as follows:

Motivation is how we choose to allocate our energy to different actions to achieve the greatest satisfaction of our needs.

They go on:

Our level of motivation determines which actions we’ll work on, how much effort we’ll put in, and how long we’ll work, and that a motivating environment is one in which expending more energy leads to satisfying more needs.

From this definition it is obvious why it is fundamental in leadership to work with the motivation of our engineers. That means applying leadership rule #1.

If we want something done then we need to make our engineers focus their energy on that task. According to the explanation above we need to make sure they hope or even expect to increase the satisfaction of their needs by doing so. What kind of assessment leads to that expectation?

As the person in question I will first estimate my chances of success. These depend on the perceived difficulty of the task and my perceived level of competence. But that’s not all. Successfully finishing a task will not per se lead to a fulfillment of my need. The question thus is:

Will success lead to a consequence that fulfills my needs?

And here is where leadership really comes into play. You as a manager need to make sure that the answer is ‘yes’ for all actions you want to reinforce.

Now what will the individual’s answer be based upon? Obviously her past experience. That is why you as a manager need to consistently reward success (in the sense of “fulfillment of need”).

Rewarding success

To consistently reward success you need to get a number of things right:

Noticing success

Sounds trivial but it often isn’t: you can not reward what you don’t see. As we are pressed for time and attention span it is difficult to observe and realize the successes of our team members.

To make matters more complicated success might by very individually defined. What is a success for that individual person?

Knowing the needs

It is still a matter of scientific debate whether we all have the same needs or not. It doesn’t matter: The most urgent needs of people clearly vary. In order to make sure their needs are met you must know your engineers’ priorities. It takes some searching and experimenting to find out what drives them. But as we see here it is time well invested.

Having the tools and resources

Knowing what a person needs does not mean being able to provide it. You might lack the methods (how do I make a person feel competent?) or resources (do I have the budget to raise her salary?).

Showing courage and discipline

When you start consciously influencing the “feedback loop” of your contributors you take on extra responsibility. Differentiating between good results and bad ones always includes the risk of being unfair. You may also have misjudged the needs. Tough cheese: To excel in kikentai management you have to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

You will never be 100% fair. Still your team can expect you to try hard. That takes discipline. And finding time is part of that discipline…

Being Consistent

You all know the famous conditioning experiment ‘Pavlov’s dogs’. Assume that there would be no correlation between the bell ringing and the food becoming available. Not only would the dog not learn to react to the bell. Even worse: it would learn that the bell is irrelevant. Some manager’s feedback is perceived as being random like that.

That is why I cannot stress enough the importance of trying to consistently follow the leadership rule. We all know that it is hard. But if you feel you can not do at least a decent job don’t be a leader!

Leadership rule #1: Summing up

Coming back to leadership rule #1

People should feel better when doing the right thing than when doing the wrong thing.

As a manager I want to reinforce positive behavior. In the terminology above I want to make sure that my engineer puts her energy there again. That is why I want her to learn that this behaviour will make her feel better by fulfilling her needs.

The best thing about it: if you make that work, your staff will do the right thing without you pulling at the reins hard!

Do you know what the most urgent needs of your team members are?


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