Would you like your teammates and employees to tell you how to lead them?

You were probably too busy focusing on yourself, believing leadership was about you, to see.

I teach and coach leadership. This point is so subtle that most clients and students take a few times to "get" it.

Then they realize how obvious it is despite never noticing it before. Then they start using it.

People want meaning and purpose in their work

Leadership literature talks about challenges of leading, it implies people don't want you to lead them.
On the contrary, it's in how you look at it. You reading Inc. and these words means you aspire to more, meaning you're working hard so your peers probably do too.

Change your perspective and relationships and people open up. You start realizing how people want to work hard--when they see their work creating meaning and purpose.

These motivations make them vulnerable so they protect them, but people still show you how to create them. When you know how to read their actions, your leadership tends to look and feel more like inspiration and support.

This perspective comes with practice. Some aspiring leaders never get it. Those who do never stop learning to read people. Their leadership becomes about the other person more than themselves.

The perspective: People want meaning and purpose

So let's get this perspective. Eisenhower described it well when he said:

Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.

First consider your behavior.

Do you ever do something intending to make your life worse? Sure, you may inadvertently mess something up, but you never intentionally mess up your life.

In fact, you probably spend most of your waking hours to make your life as good as you can. Even sitting around lazily doing nothing counts because you're trying to conserve your energy, not risk doing something you might not enjoy.

Everyone, especially analytical people like me (read: geeks), has counterexamples. I won't argue with you, but if you try on the perspective that in the moment they act and from their perspective, people believe they are doing what's best for themselves, you'll see it more and more.

Second, what do you want in business more than successfully finishing a project you consider meaningful and purposeful? I'm sure you want a few other things, but if you're like most people, you value doing a meaningful job well done.

Combining these answers tells us that when you see the chance to work on something you consider meaningful, you'll act to make it possible. At least you won't act against it.

Everyone is the same way.

Everyone always always act to improve their lives so their behavior communicates what they consider meaningful and purposeful. They'll never behave inconsistently with it, though their protections may make it look so if you don't know how to read their behavior.

The more meaningful a project looks to them, the more they communicate why and how to make it happen. The more they've been burned before, the more they'll protect themselves so they may seem to behave inconsistently.

Without this perspective, you might think they don't want your leadership. With this perspective, you become curious, not reactive. The more you can read what they communicate, the more you read how to lead them.

How to use this perspective

First, try the perspective out. Fit it into your belief system and the rest will fall into place.

Assume what people say and do are consistent with what they consider meaningful and purposeful. You'll start to interpret all their behavior as telling you how to make their work meaningful.

You'll find yourself paying attention and listening more, not to use their interests to your advantage but to give them the meaning and purpose they wanted before you met them.

Their perspective

People you lead this way will read you as a leader who creates meaning and purpose. They will learn that the more they share with you, the more meaningful you make their work.

They'll want to share more with you and protect their vulnerabilities less because you improve their work and lives with what they share.

Your teams will become more loyal, open, and productive.

You'll get more done with less work, which you'll enjoy more.