As facilitator of The Exchange – A Forum for Women Leaders, I have the privilege of interacting with many professional women on topics relevant to the challenges they face as leaders and the nuances of what connects them to their work. Women leaders from Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurial start-ups, and everything in between are asking questions. Questions about what uniquely motivates women to excel in their work, what engages them in their work today, and what steps they can take to become more engaged.
What uniquely motivates women to excel?
In a recent newsletter “Executive Insights,” April 2008, RHR International suggests that authenticity is the single most important factor contributing to a woman’s effectiveness, or motivation to excel. RHR’s Authentic Leader Model describes the five factors that comprise “the intersections between a woman as an individual, her uniquely-experienced work environment, and organizational influences.”
1. The organization’s climate
2. Individual psychology and interpersonal resources
3. Leader expectations
4. External commitments
5. Sphere of authenticity
Each of these factors contributes to or detracts from a woman’s motivation in her work, but the one with the most significant influence for women is authenticity. A work environment that allows a woman to contribute her talents and strengths in ways that impact the bottom line, without having to compromise her values or adopt an unnatural style, will foster the authenticity needed to develop a personal connection to her work, team and organization. As women come to accept their personal style of leading, rather than conforming to what they think is expected, they can relate more effectively to others, tap into their intuition, and wield greater influence by virtue of their relationships and credibility.
What engages women in their work today?
A work environment that fosters this authenticity is necessary now more than ever. Daily headlines tout the latest job cuts, market volatility, and bail out plans for many industries. Women – and men – are faced with ever-present ambiguity, change, and emotional upheaval associated with workforce reductions and budget cuts. At a time like this, the pressures at work challenge a woman’s need for authenticity and create the opportunity for her to leverage it to enhance business results.
Here’s what I am hearing from women leaders today about what impacts their motivation and engagement at work:
- When resources are scarce, many women are more motivated to leverage their individual and team’s strengths and talents to do more with less.
- Lean work environments foster more direct and authentic conversations between leaders and employees, resulting in higher levels of trust, deeper connections, and more motivated employees.
- Reductions in staff require reprioritization, making it easier for people to focus their efforts and recognize the impact of their contributions on the organization’s success.
- When extraordinary effort becomes an expectation, the drive to put forth the extra effort declines and resentment or burnout can set in.
- In what sometimes feels like survival of the fittest, women can become isolated and begin to view their peers and colleagues as competition for scarce jobs. This strain on working relationships can decrease motivation and effectiveness.
- Many women are motivated by development opportunities. They evaluate their job based on future development opportunities. Will they continue to learn and grow in the organization? Will their leaders continue to support them in their professional development?
What steps can professional women take to become more engaged in their work?
In turbulent times – as well as in smooth waters – there are several actions professional women can take to ignite their motivation at work:
- Build and leverage positive working relationships with bosses, peers, employees, clients, and external constituents. A strong network not only enhances leadership effectiveness, but is a good “insurance policy” in the event of job change.
- Identify and use unique strengths and talents. Seek out assessments and other resources to gain clarity about strengths, talents, blind spots and weaknesses. Pursue opportunities to leverage strengths and talents at work and develop a plan to close or otherwise address gaps.
- Actively pursue professional development. Establish a specific development goal each quarter such as increasing influence, handling conflict, negotiating, self-promotion, etc. Determine what resources are needed to be successful in achieving these goals.
- Assess personal commitment to the organization and its mission. In the short run, it may seem imperative to stay right where we are – a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. In the long run, however, remaining in an organization that is incongruent with our personal gifts and desires to contribute puts a damper on the connection we feel to our work. Self-actualization, the last order of need we seek to fulfill on Maslow’s hierarchy, is the ability to apply ourselves in work we find both meaningful and impactful. And self-actualization is the ultimate form of engagement.
The Exchange – A Forum for Women Leaders is a networking and professional development program bringing together women leaders to exchange ideas and insights around topics of interest such as motivation to excel, authenticity, and career decisions. Contact Martha Carlson at (763) 545-5997 x303 or email@example.com to learn more about the program or to register for an upcoming group.