There's a lot of discussion about how to  motivate employees. But what about leaders?

Many early and mid-career employees are still figuring out what drives them.  Leaders, on the other hand, have reached the upper ranks of organizations because they know what they're good at and where they want to go. If earlier-stage employees are motivated by a search for direction, leaders are motivated by getting closer to their ultimate goals.

So, for CEOs, motivating senior leadership teams starts with understanding their ultimate goals.

To do that, you have to devote meaningful time to building personal relationships with your leaders.

1. Invest time in connecting with your leaders.

Healthy communication is always essential, especially when it comes to intangible goals like learning motivations. The only way to know what moves people is to develop trusting personal relationships with them. 

As early as possible, start getting to know your leaders on a personal level. This is easier done over coffee or lunch. Learning about their backgrounds, families, personal passions, and more creates a connection that is important, but takes time to build. I usually try to spend at least five to 10 minutes of my one-on-ones just catching up generally. This helps lay the groundwork for long-term trust. If your leaders trust that you care about them beyond their KPIs, they'll be more open about their inner motivations.

2. Understand their short-term and long-term goals. 

Every six months or so, set up a meeting outside of your normal ones. In this meeting, spend time talking about where they want to go professionally--what do they consider the top of their hill? What skills do they need to develop to achieve their goals? How have their teams and responsibilities shifted over the past six months? Have changes been successful? 

By understanding their perspective, you can better give feedback to help them achieve their goals. And if an opportunity arises that makes sense for a particular leader, you'll be able to identify it because you've already acknowledged it. Other times, your company and a leader might evolve in different directions. It may be the case that you don't have the right opportunity for them at a certain moment in time that is aligned with their goals. 

We recently had an opportunity open up in the realm of business growth and expansion. It was a perfect fit for one of our leaders, and I knew that because I'd had a lot of conversations with her about her goals. It's not always such an organic fit, but the only way to give yourself that chance is through strong personal relationships.

3. Leverage your network to help your leaders achieve their goals. 

The same way more junior team members want training and access to learning and development tools, your senior leadership team will too. Again, each of your senior leaders is different, but if you've built trust and are having open dialogues about their career paths, this should become pretty clear. 

Some of your team may want to build their professional profile by speaking at conferences. Others may want executive coaching to further develop their leadership skills. Or introductions to others who can serve as mentors. 

Nothing is a better investment than investing in your leadership team's future potential.