How do you get people excited and engaged?
Traditional wisdom says that you have to show people what's in it for them if you want them to join your team, support your cause, work long hours or buy your product.
Traditional wisdom is wrong.
The secret to getting people engaged isn't about showing them why it's good for them. It's the exact opposite. It's about providing people with a purpose that's bigger than they are.
Social science research is proving what we already know in our hearts to be true: People are willing to work harder for a cause they believe in than they are for individual rewards.
That's why soldiers face death rather than abandon their unit.
It's why parents sacrifice to send their kids to college.
It's why in 2001 employees at Southwest airlines, including the chief executive officer, took pay cuts rather let anyone go. Southwest "cut pay rather than people" and kept their enthusiasm intact. Their motto, "Not Just a Career, a Cause," wasn't a meaningless platitude. It was a living breathing thing beating inside the heart of every employee.
We've long bought into the myth that people are only out for their own self-interest. That's total bunk. People are desperate to be part of something that's bigger than themselves.
That's why I spent $54 a pair buying my daughters and me canvass slip-on shoes from Toms. We watched the video on www.Toms.com. When I learned that for every pair purchased, Toms gives a pair of new shoes to a child in need, I couldn't get my Amex out fast enough. I could have bought similar shoes for half that price at Walmart, but I wanted to be part of the Toms "One for One Movement."
But you don't need a video of your employees hand-placing new shoes on a little girl's feet in Rwanda to motivate your team.
If you want to win the hearts and minds of your customers, your colleagues, or even your family, you need to provide them with three things:
People need to know what to do.
They need to know how to do it.
And they need to know why they're doing it.
What and how engage people's minds. But it's the why that captures their hearts.
Here's an example:
One of our clients provides information technology services to small businesses. That's what they do. How they do it is via computer consulting services, products and support. But here's the why: They're committed to helping small businesses grow.
"We sell IT services" is nice. But compare that to: "Small business is the backbone of America. Our job is to eliminate the IT hassles so small business owners can achieve their dreams."
Which one makes you want to get out of bed? The first statement is internally focused; the second statement provides a larger external purpose.
A compelling "why" is how I survived as a working mother with a husband who traveled. When our kids were little and I was exhausted, I always reminded myself, "I'm raising the future President of the United States and her Secretary of State." It sounds hokey, but it inspired me to do my best because I knew the world was counting on me.
The reason people focus on their own self-interest is because we haven't given them anything better to care about.
Real leadership isn't about appealing to self-interest. Real leadership is bringing people together around a purpose that's bigger than they are.
Business strategist Lisa Earle McLeod specializes in sales force and leadership development. A sought after speaker, she is author of "The Triangle of Truth," a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book. Visit her at www.TriangleofTruth.com.