Mojo leadership (the inside-out approach)

(Article written by MojoLife co-founder Andrew Thorp).

As a training and consultancy company, MojoLife celebrates the attitudes and strategies of people ‘with mojo’. By mojo we mean inner confidence, purpose and passion – the kinds of traits that build followings.But an important word here is ‘inner’; it’s what’s going on inside that’s makes individuals and companies attractive to their fans. They’re authentic (the same on the inside as they are on the outside). They believe in what they’re doing and they’re not afraid to stand up for this when it may induce opposition or ridicule from others.

In this second of a 2-part blog, I’ll focus on the inside-out approach in relation to two key areas – leadership and employee motivation.

We had an interesting success story recently – let’s call him Harry. Some weeks ago we ran a workshop for some senior managers and we asked the question, “Why do you do what you do?” It’s a question Simon Sinek poses as part of his Golden Circle approach (that most people or businesses, when asked to present themselves, start by explaining what they do, then how they do it, but rarely do they get to their ‘why’). The why we’re talking about here is your motivation, why you feel strongly about what you do, why you’re on a bit of a mission.

Harry wrestled with this notion for a while and finally realised that a lot of the work he does now (and why he does it) stems from his early experiences of dealing with dyslexia. He was mis-treated and made to feel small, and this heavily influenced the values and beliefs (fairness, justice, equality) he currently holds as a senior manager.

At the time of the workshop, Harry was struggling to engage and motivate his team. We advised him to be a little more open with his people and to reveal more of what he had on the inside. He’d always concealed his dyslexia (partly out of embarrassment, partly to avoid revealing a ‘weakness’ and to some extent because he felt it was irrelevant). But after the workshop he convened a meeting, shared his story with the team and the results were astonishing.

People he’d never had much a conversation with before came up to him and shared things they’d hitherto kept hidden (for fear they would be ‘used in evidence against them’). He was invited to Diwali by another party and within 48 hours of the meeting the mood in his department had shifted noticeably.

We’re excited about this experience because it’s a wonderful example of inside-out leadership. So many leaders feel the need to appear all-knowing and invincible, fearful that any sign of weakness will be exploited. But that can translate as aloof, arrogant and distant. It’s a mask that hinders true connection. What Harry did was to peel away those outer layers so his team could see the person within. He conveyed certainty in what he wanted to achieve, but his honesty, authenticity and his request for help established a human connection with his team that was previously lacking.

Employee engagement & motivation
There’s some fascinating research on motivation that Daniel Pink highlights in his wonderful TED talk. The general thrust is that in jobs which involve a degree of cognitive skill (and where the salary being paid is not a source of injustice), paying people more money doesn’t make them work harder (and frequently has the opposite effect!). It seems that what people are motivated by are autonomy, mastery and purpose.

By autonomy, we mean that instead of micro-managing people, you allow them some creative freedom and latitude to come up with ideas and lead their own projects.

Mastery meets our basic human need to be continually improving and growing. We like to get better at things, learn new skills – why, asks Pink, do we put so much effort into learning a musical instrument in our spare time when there’s no prospect of us being paid for playing?

And having a sense of purpose beyond the immediate task we’re employed to perform is a strong motivating influence. We like to feel we’re contributing to a bigger picture, that our efforts are a vital part of a larger process or goal.

What these things demonstrate is that you can’t expect people to perform well on the outside if they’re not feeling good on the inside. Offering more money when people feel detached from the wider purpose of the organisation, or anonymous or under-appreciated won’t fundamentally change their behaviour. Indeed it may create additional cynicism (“they’re trying to buy me off”) and jealousy from others not similarly rewarded.

Again, leaders and managers have to understand what their teams are feeling on the inside before they can influence their outward behaviour. As Stephen Covey says, “First seek to understand, then seek to be understood.”

It’s so tempting to look outside for answers when we have challenges to address. Perhaps it’s time to take a leaf out of the mojo practitioners and find the wealth that lies within.

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About Mojo Your Business

Mojo Your Business is an innovative training & consultancy company based in Manchester, UK. We're passionate about helping businesses and individuals perform better through effective communication. We specialise in corporate storytelling and how it applies to internal and external communication (employee relations, employability skills, leadership, relationship building, sales, marketing and public relations). More at
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