There are times in all organizations when the external environment conspires against success. When adversity approaches the doorstep, it fosters seeds of doubt, lack of hope, deep anxiety, and a loss of focus in employees. Demotivated and uncertain, a  workforce can wither under the blistering heat of anxiety and change.

During COVID, autonomy and independence have flourished by necessity. There are pros and cons to this evolution, but the bottom line is, exerting positional authority to drive motivation is a losing game across the board. That doesn’t mean leaders leave motivation and inspiration to chance. They take an active role in connecting team members to the goals of the organization and engaging them with those goals directly.

What Motivation Really Means

Little boy Superhero

Adversity breeds resourcefulness, capability, and high levels of engagement. Getting people to do their best work in trying times is one of leadership’s most significant, enduring, and elusive challenges. 

Leaders striving to boost motivation should anchor to the conventional wisdom that a motivated workforce translates into better corporate performance. This is particularly true when faced with adversity. 

By amplifying the good and filtering the bad, connecting the employee with the broader organization, and bridging individual performance to organization success, leaders play an active role in providing guideposts through challenges and adversity. Perhaps in these trying days of uncertainty, leaders should consider tools — both new and some old standbys— that infuse personal motivation and grounding.

But what practices can leaders take to directly increase their employees’ engagement and motivation during challenging times?

Communicating What, When, and Why

“The most important words that could ever come out of a leader’s mouth are, ‘After having listened, this is what we heard.’ ” — Chris Ihrig, FiredUp! Culture CEO

The key to enacting meaningful, sustainable motivation is creating a sense of shared ownership, accountability, and achievement across your whole team. People want to win, to achieve their goals. They can’t do that unless leadership makes the what, when, and why clear. 

  • What — What are our goals? What is important to us as an organization? What are our values? What do we want to accomplish? 
  • When — What are our milestones? When do we hope to achieve our goals? If things come up, how are we going to be flexible? 
  • Why — Are we really going back to our core values? Our mission? Does everything we do reflect who we are as a company? 

Leaders who connect the what, why, and when, ensure that team members understand the foundational aspects of their work. They’re connected to the work of their peers and to the overall goals of the organization. 

True motivation also demands leading by example. So, how do leaders motivate themselves? Find out by downloading and filling out our free workbook: The Innovative Leader’s Guide to Transforming Company Culture…Starting with Yourself.