Motivating your employees may come in many forms, but in the pandemic age and with so much stress and anxiety ruling their lives, work has to be elevated to the pursuit of something compelling -- something with a higher purpose than just doing the job. 

As leaders, we have to find that intrinsic desire in employees that comes from deep within, where both heart and mind are in the game.

There's no question leaders in the pandemic hold the key to unlocking the power of motivation. And it always starts with how you make your people feel

Poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou famously stated, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." 

Starting on the journey toward great leadership demands having to face what motivates people at the core of their human design. Smart leaders motivate their people from the neck up by doing things like:

1. Listen to honest feedback

Many leaders don't want to listen to ideas, opinions, and constructive feedback from others about their own leadership. For such leaders, cutting themselves off means that they operate in an ego-system, not an ecosystem. A true leader who listens well is open and accountable; he probes and asks questions and listens to understand--with a focus on the future, not on a rehash of the past.

2. Help employees set goals

"One of the biggest mistakes managers make is assuming what motivates them also motivates their employees," says Emplify chief people officer Adam Weber, author of the forthcoming book, Lead Like a Human.

To discover what motivates employees, Weber advises helping people set thoughtful goals. "By creating manageable goals, they know their work is connected to a bigger achievement," Weber states.

Once someone has set a meaningful goal, the role of the leader is to help the individual map out a plan to achieve it. This includes breaking it down into measurable objectives and helping identify blockers that might get in the way. Once the plan is underway, leaders should then provide accountability by routinely checking in on goal progression.

3. Practice active listening

People underestimate the power of the great leadership skill of listening. When a person feels that they are listened to, it goes directly to their self-worth. When someone demonstrates that they care about what concerns them and that the other person really understands their perspective, it validates that individual.

"As a leader, active listening doesn't mean you agree with or endorse the other person's position. It simply means you have heard and understood them," says Jay Perry, founder and CEO of Ally Business Coaching.

Sounds very simple, and in theory, it is. The harsh reality is that it is extremely difficult to execute due to several factors. But according to Perry, whom I've featured as a guest on the Love in Action podcast, the more you practice it, the more impactful your effect on those you lead becomes. "In my mind," says Perry, "it is the first step in servant leadership."

4. Guide people with a clear roadmap

When the future is uncertain, many employees will look to their leaders for reassurance and direction--even though they might not have all the answers. As a leader, it's OK to confidently express your own doubt or uncertainty while maintaining your authority.

As you assess where people are in the crisis, ask simple questions to address any of their concerns first. This places confidence in their eyes that you have their best interests in mind and they know where the bus is headed. For example: 

  • What do you need an immediate answer to?
  • Where can I focus my efforts and attention to better support you right now?
  • What are you uncertain of in the direction we are going?
  • What's in the way of you achieving your goals right now?

The quicker you find out their challenges and roadblocks, the more likely you'll be able to calm them down and support them.

Make sure to stay informed and communicate frequently, even if you don't have news to report, because, as they say, "no news is good news." And always follow up on an issue to keep your tribe assured that you're in action mode.