Is it really necessary for leaders to be inspirational? Is motivation an indicator of engagement? While some would argue that, yes, leaders need to inspire and that motivation leads to better engagement, there is another school of thought: The best engagement is a result of culture alignment, a sense of purpose, and the exercise of discipline. In fact, some would say that trying to motivate people to do things is one of the worst ways to go about getting things done.


Let’s take a step back and acknowledge that, yes, it is important for leaders to communicate their vision effectively. However, leaders should avoid falling into the trap of becoming the source of inspiration and motivation within an organisation, rallying the troops through good times and bad. Too much rallying can become an addictive cycle that feeds the ego of charismatic leaders, while demotivating others and devaluing the importance of their hard work.


Relying too heavily on inspiring your employees to do well reinforces the idea that accomplishing certain tasks or goals requires a certain mental or emotional state. Discipline, on the other hand, is more in line with the growth mentality which suggests that things are accomplished through effort and the pursuit of consistent improvement. It eliminates emotion from the equation, and consequently, the source of procrastination. Where motivation is fleeting, discipline is consistent, habitual and the action-based foundation for high-performance organisations.


So what should leaders do instead of motivating employees?


  • Empower with systems. There is lots of room for autonomy within defined parameters, especially when the parameters act as guidelines rather than red tape. Empower your employees by setting the boundaries and trusting them to make the right decisions. You might discover that this kind of discipline, particularly in decision making, can lead to more creativity, growth and high-performance that isn’t dependent on whims or feelings. 
  • Invest in development. Just as athletes are always training and working toward improving their performance, so too must employees hone their skills. Facilitate development by providing opportunities for personal and professional growth, through mentoring, peer coaching, and innovative teamwork. 
  • Create ownership. A key characteristic of a high-performance organisation is ownership and accountability. Leadership is accountable to employees, and employees are accountable to both leadership and their peers. It’s deceptively simple: create a culture where people are expected to do what they say they will do, and where they’ll be supported if they don’t or can’t. This kind of culture requires transparency, strong communication, ownership of action and a healthy dose of peer coaching.