The challenges leaders face in developing motivation and empowerment among followers are many.
There may be challenges in the interpersonal or dyadic relationship between individual leaders and followers. There may be challenges within the team or group environment at any of the forming, storming, norming, or performing stages. There may be challenges at the level of organizational systems within which leaders and followers are embedded. Or, there may be challenges external to the organization such as a difficult economic environment straining follower and leader expectations of performance.
Beginning with Leader Self-Reflection
While each of these levels may be challenges to motivation and empowerment, leaders should begin by considering their own role in leadership challenges. In a previous post I argued that Effective Leadership = Effective Self-Leadership. When leaders face challenges in motivating and empowering followers it is important to first look to themselves as leaders—to begin seeing how they personally may have contributed to demotivating followers. The Bible makes this priority personal: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).
As a leader,
are you prone to look first to the proverbial speck in a follower’s eye,
or the log in our own eye?
Avoiding the Fundamental Attribution Error
In challenging times it is easy to look to others or our environment and assign fault to them. This tendency is described by some as the fundamental attribution error or actor-observer bias. But thoughtful leaders are self-reflective leaders. They resist the fundamental attribution error and consider how they personally may be contributing to a problem and how followers may be impacted by their environment. They are leaders willing to look first to their contribution to a situation and work out from there to other relevant contributing factors.
Desiring Personal Humility
In light of such logic, we might argue that the greatest challenge to motivating and empowering followers is me and you. It is about self-reflection and self-leadership first. Jim Collin’s notes this point in his book Good to Great. At the heart of Collins’ work is the concept of level five leadership. Collins describes Level Five Leaders as having a unique blend of both professional will and personal humility. With such a blend, a leader has the self-confidence and self-efficacy to own that they do not have all of the answers and that they have less control than they may have originally thought. They also are willing to look into the mirror and see what their contribution is to the lack of motivation among followers.
Pressing Forward with Personal Humility and Follower Motivation
As leaders engage in personal reflection, embrace a spirit of humility, and acknowledge their own contribution to challenges … powerful result emerges. Rather than thinking less of leaders, followers generally grow in their respect for leaders who demonstrate authenticity and a willingness to own their part in challenges. Along this path, leaders begin by truly recognizing where actual power lies—with the wider organizational membership and not just leaders. From this place, leaders are able to motivate followers in authentic and meaningful ways. This motivation may take the form of genuinely valuing and developing people. It may also take the form of channeling followers to orient their attention on vision and performance that matters to them and the organization.
Leader self-reflection and humility is a key starting point in making such motivation and empowerment come to life. Have you seen positive examples of leader humility in your organizations? What impact did this have on the community and the overall motivation experienced by organizational members?
2 thoughts on “Follower Motivation and Leader Humility”
Regarding the need to develop personal humility – our temptation when we lead is to seek for our followers to be humble. We like to stand at the front as the masters-who-no-one-will-excel-beyond, when truly humble (and effective!) leaders train others to surpass them. Great post!
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