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During my leadership series, I talk about motivation theory. Exceptional leaders must know how to motivate themselves and others. There are quite a few research theories out there and some practical advice. Motivational suggestions range from celebrating small wins to changing an organization’s culture.

For years, one of my favorite motivation theories came from Drive by Daniel Pink. He says that we are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I still like his list, but a sense of purpose is a difficult thing for most organizations to create. For example, it’s difficult to link manning a machine that creates a part for another machine to ultimate life purpose.

I recently reread Drive and was reminded that Pink derived his three items from research done by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. The two researchers determined that autonomy, competence, and relatedness are our basic needs that, when met, increase our feelings of motivation. Relatedness is something that organizations can influence in order to help their people feel motivated.

When we feel relatedness, we feel connected to others. We have a sense of belonging, and we feel that we matter to others. Organizations can foster feelings of being cared for and connected to others in several ways.

When onboarding new employees, assigning a buddy or mentor can help people feel connected to their new organization. In a sense, it gives them someone to sit with at lunch and to chat with.

Chatting is an underrated motivational tool. Many organizations discourage personal discussions, and they are missing the point. Our feeling of connectedness with others is fostered when we share personal information. Of course, it’s not good to chit-chat all day, but getting to know coworkers on a personal level is healthy.

I feel a need to point out that there is such a thing as oversharing at work. As leaders, it’s important that we set boundaries for conversations. Super personal information should not be shared or listened to. We have the right and obligation to say when we feel uncomfortable with a conversation.

The foundation of relatedness is caring. You can read about ways to develop a caring attitude [here.] Researchers Amy Cuddy, Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger have discovered that 90% of our impression of a leader consists of our evaluation of their warmth and strength. They suggest that leaders begin with warmth because it helps to build influence.

In a Harvard Business Review article titled “Connect, Then Lead”, they wrote, “Prioritizing warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them.” In other words, demonstrating that you care about them – their ideas, feelings, and concerns.

(I can’t resist pointing out that focusing on warmth also fosters psychological safety, which we know is the secret sauce for exceptional teams.)

When using Deci and Ryan’s motivation theory, we might not be able to give a lot of autonomy. We can always ensure that employees gain mastery over their tasks. We also can let employees know how their work matters. However, ensuring that employees feel connected, seen, and cared for is one of the easiest and most effective ways to help them feel motivated to do good work.

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