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Friday, July 27, 2012

Great Leaders Inspire Excellence Through Mission

By Jason Milton, Senior Consultant

Sixty-hour weeks. Reports. Meetings. Email. Deadline after deadline after deadline. We’ve all found ourselves drowning in at least one of those things. The challenge for leaders is to keep their employees motivated to not only complete those tasks, but also to continuously do so with excellence.

The key is mission. Think about this story:

For years, a quiet orderly mopped floors, scrubbed patient rooms, and cleaned up bodily fluids. Never complaining, always smiling, this middle-aged man from Cleveland embraced the (apparent) monotony of his job. At the end of one of his graveyard shifts, a cynical colleague asked him how he could be so happy about mopping the same floors every day. Puzzled, the orderly replied, “I’ve never mopped a floor a day in my life. I work here so I can stop deadly diseases from infecting others.”

This story illuminates the importance of perspective -- and mission. The difference between average performance and excellence is often determined not by effort, but by perspective.

The first step is to ask each of your employees why. Why are you creating that presentation or writing that report? If their answer is, “To meet a deadline,” you should be concerned. Deadlines alone do not motivate employees to perform their best work, at least not in the long term. They certainly motivate employees to complete a task, but checking a box on a to-do list does not necessarily equate to excellence.

Through 30 years of studying organizations across the world, Gallup identified 12 key elements that separate the best workplaces from the rest. One of those differentiating factors is a sense of mission.

The best leaders make their company’s overall mission clear and help employees understand how their work contributes to a greater purpose. Even better, they help employees consider whom their work affects.

As a leader, you should help your employees understand that their work is part of a series of events that will change someone’s life. For example, an IT support person at a bank didn’t just fix a computer. He made a banker’s job easier, which led her to find a way to give that small business a loan, which allowed that business owner to hire that single mom who had been out of work for six months. Your IT support person will never meet that mom or hear that story. But that story would not have happened if he didn’t spend the extra hour diagnosing the computer problem or searching for a better solution.

So the next time you find your employees lacking motivation -- whether it’s to complete yet another presentation, report, or seemingly mundane task -- help them remember that they are not just mopping the floors, but that they are actually stopping deadly diseases from infecting others.

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