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Lead From Need: Four Ways to Motivate Employees

Are your workers lethargic, apathetic, unmotivated, or disengaged? 

Many business owners’ problem is that they are giving employees what they think employees want, but not what they really need. Fat salaries and perks are great, but what they also want is to be inspired, connected, and living a life of purpose. They need to feel valued. As their leader you need to lead from need. Once our basic survival needs have been met, we all aspire to satisfy the four deeper needs: connection, contribution, freedom, and growth. 

A new wave of leaders knows that to get the best out of someone you need to coach and empower them to greatness. As a leader in your organization you want to ensure that your employees feel they are:

  • Connected: building relationships with others
  • Contributing: doing something meaningful
  • Free: feeling a sense of choice and autonomy
  • Growing: developing personally and professionally

Companies with employees who have strong personal ties to each other have far higher engagement rates than those that don’t. To connect with your employees, create greater trust and loyalty by being more authentic. Great leaders don’t fret over public opinion and neither should you. Let go of who you think you should be, and just be yourself. You will gain your employees’ trust and respect in the process.

Be vulnerable. Show them the real you. We all have the same fears of not being good enough, smart enough, or worthy enough, so why pretend we are the exception? The best managers connect deeply with their employees by paying attention to what’s important to them.

Carve out some time each week to grab lunch or a coffee with your key team members. Find out what they enjoy doing outside of work and get to know them personally.

Finally, let them know that you and the company care for them. As their need to belong is met, they will give more of themselves, which in turn fuels their next need: their need to contribute.

Studies show employees are happiest when they know they are making a difference and helping others. Often their contribution goes unnoticed. Metrics for measuring an employee’s contribution should shift from measuring individual performance to measuring team performance. How are your crew members influencing those around them? A crew member with excellent soft skills who constantly uplifts his fellow employees is an incredible asset to your team, yet this won’t show up in any assessment. To help your workers feel they are contributing something meaningful you can try recognizing and publicly celebrating their accomplishments as often as possible or sharing a client story that shows your employee the difference he or she is making in someone’s life.

Self-direction is the key to performance, creativity, and engagement. The real you only shows up when you feel free. Employees are far more loyal and productive in workplace environments that respect their freedom and encourage their self-expression. To ensure your team feels a sense of autonomy, remind the crew members that everything they do is a choice. Choice is power, and when your employees believe they have a choice they will become more engaged in the process.

Align their choices with their values, not their fears. When we choose from fear, our actions lack power. When we choose from our values, our actions have more power, more meaning, and more energy. Give your employees more flexibility to accommodate their schedules. What long-held beliefs might be blocking new win-win opportunities? Decentralize whatever authority you can to give your workers more decision-making power. This will empower them and make your company much more efficient.

If your crew members feel they are not making progress in personal development they will soon become disconnected and seek opportunities elsewhere. Ensure that each employee is constantly challenged so that he or she can grow. The greater a person’s belief in his or her own power to influence an outcome, the more likely he or she is to succeed with a new challenge. To help your employees grow, try building confidence. Challenge any belief they might have that is limiting their performance. For example, if an employee thinks he isn’t experienced enough to manage a project, you can remind him of his unique strengths and capabilities.

Another way to promote growth is modeling. Have inexperienced employees watch other colleagues with similar skills perform more advanced tasks. Seeing others with similar abilities succeed at a task will help them develop positive, “can-do” beliefs. Recognition and positive feedback are key to helping your employees feel more competent, motivated, and open to growth. Negative feedback can devastate those with low self-esteem.

Finally, optimize the environment. Create a vibrant, energetic, stress-free workplace that encourages your employees to get the food, exercise, rest, and water their bodies need so they can perform safely and at their best.

Reaching Full Potential
The most successful business owners in the world unleash the energy and creative power of their employees by honoring those four needs: connection, contribution, freedom, and growth. They know that what really motivates people — once their basic financial needs have been met — is their desire to grow and develop as human beings, connect and collaborate with others, and contribute something to a worthy cause. You can inspire your employees to reach their full potential by making your company a place where those four needs will be met.

About the Author
Ascanio Pignatelli is an award winning speaker, seminar leader, coach, and author of the forthcoming book Lead From Need. He is the founder of ApexCEO, an executive coaching and leadership development group that helps C-level executives develop the leadership and communication skills to create more engaging workplaces. For more information, contact: Ascanio Pignatelli, (310) 913-2313,

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