Want to Motivate Like a Good CEO? Here’s How

As human beings, we all want to have a purpose. We want our lives to matter. Purpose is what allows us to discover who we really are, to put meaning in our work, and to discover our talents, skills, and sources of genuine satisfaction. It’s necessary and critical to a healthy, happy, and successful life.

So when it comes to the question of how to motivate people, take a tip from CEOs who know how to do it well. Purpose is essential to motivation, so we need to always keep in mind the role that purpose plays in our success and in the success of our companies. If a motivated, energized workforce is essential to accomplishing organizational goals, and if motivated workers will overcome all obstacles, defying the odds, then they must be purposeful, brimming with passion and committed energy. Effective leaders help their people to achieve a common goal by simultaneously helping them realize their own potential. To motivate like a CEO thus means to be driven by your own purpose and passion and then to connect other people to that same purpose.

Research shows that people work for a paycheck, but they live for a purpose. A 2006 Gallup poll of 540 adults employed full or part time found that the top three things that made people happy were “doing what suits me best/fulfilling,” “interacting with the public/helping people,” and “freedom/flexibility to do my job my own way.” These were 41 percent of responses, and all these and a few others ranked significantly above good pay, flexible hours, and job security. Such numbers show that we have to feel good about what we are doing in our job.

The good news is that most leaders report that they do feel a sense of mission and purpose. Eighty-five percent of managers, directors, leaders, and business owners agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I feel fulfilled because I am doing work that matters to me and to my company.” Eighty percent agreed or strongly agreed with another statement, “My job is important, and my boss communicates how it connects with our overall business goals.” Business leaders agree that there must be an inner sense of importance to their work and that the leader must communicate this to his or her employees.

With this as the case, why don’t leaders focus more of their time and energy on communicating to inspire others? The simple answer is that they feel like they are too busy with their own tasks at hand. Many are struggling to keep their heads above water and they feel trapped by their schedules of travel, meetings, and day-to-day activities. Yet, if leaders don’t find a way to climb above the noise of the workday, to communicate a big inspiring message, they ultimately fail.

Many employees have often said that their bosses are so distracted that they often forget to do the important things. “They are too busy ‘doing’ to lead,” said one employee who was interviewed. “They are caught up in the day-to-day and neglect to communicate,” said another. And then there was this comment: “They often say that they don’t have time, but I think it is that they don’t have a philosophy or plan about how they want to lead.”

Employees know what is needed from a leader and will commonly express a dissatisfaction when something is missing. As a leader, you must believe in your heart that the people who work with you are truly in it for something bigger than themselves.  Then you must be able to communicate in a way that respects their desire to make a difference.

People don’t just come to work for a paycheck. Once their basic needs are met, research shows that they seek opportunities for personal growth. Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of the humanistic school, theorized that there were five human needs and that self-actualization is the highest of those. In A Theory of Human Motivation (1943), he characterized a person who is self-actualized as focused on problems external to him or herself. If you accept this as true, you must accept that a focus on growth and development will appeal to the highest level of a person’s conscious needs.

I’ve always admired those who are purpose-driven. Leaders who connect people with the company, the message, and the strategy find it far simpler to accomplish their goals and you can see the difference in the way they behave. They have an entire organization of people who are working, not just for a paycheck, but to achieve their own potential as individuals.  People want to make a difference. When they believe that what they are doing matters, it motivates them and stimulates their passion and creativity. They are energized by the possibilities and connected to each other through a common purpose. These leaders harness energy and talent and drive their organizations forward. This is essential because, as a leader, you cannot do it alone. You need everyone you can get to help you to the top.

Communicating, connecting, and inspiring people are critical business skills and every leader must understand the power of purpose at a personal level.  They must know how to communicate that purpose with passion. As one employee noted about his superiors, “Many [leaders] come in and do their job and often forget they have people under them. They haven’t been properly mentored into their role and therefore, they can’t mentor anyone else.” As we can see, communication here is the key. Without sharing their goals and the things which are important to them, people simply lack the necessary motivation and creativity in their jobs.

Taking all of these ideas into consideration, it may be best to think of your job as a leader who is the “CMO.” That means you will be the “Chief Motivating Officer” of the others around you.  You will decide that your primary role is inspiring people and connecting them with a common purpose. You will be clear about your own purpose by understanding what really gives you that sense of accomplishment and drive and by also understanding what gives others that drive.

In summary, we can see how important and critical the idea of “purpose” is to a healthy, happy, and successful life. We know that when we are connected to purpose, we are able to achieve great things.  By finding a common goal for our employees and becoming the “Chief Motivating Officer,” we can communicate that immense sense of purpose and attract the right people to the organization.  This will lead not only to higher revenues, greater profits, and a more productive—and happier– organization.