An esteemed sensei asked me this a couple of decades ago. Still trying to figure it out.
How does a leader motivate people to do extraordinary things?
Change is hard, transformation hurts. By contrast, doing nothing is easy.
Here's what I have found.
Safety & Security are Job One
If people don't feel secure in their jobs, forget it.
Great companies live the 'Safety first' mantra -- and that means both physical & psychological safety.
Immature organizations may pooh-pooh such ideas.
'Human capital' -- morale, ingenuity, flexibility, problem solving -- have little value for them.
Does that make sense in the world of Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google?
People want to be involved in something bigger than themselves.
No man is an island, said the poet John Donne. People will die for a noble idea, a just cause.
So leadership is story-telling, narrative.
How to frame our activities so that our team members feel they 'building a cathedral', and not simply cutting stone?
Then, how to deploy our goals so that each front line team is engaged?
Simple Decency and the Great Virtues
The Great Virtues are enduring standards of behavior. As in manufacturing, ethical standards make problems visible.
People will not follow swine, at least not for long. Safety plus noble goals plus simple decency allows people to relax.
'I'm okay here. These are good people & they'll do the right thing...' -- which unleashes commitment & creativity.
Brain imaging technology reinforces these observations. Under stress, the Pre-frontal Cortex, the brain's managerial centre, shuts down.
The limbic and sub-cortical, fight or flight, parts of the brain light up.
Fear makes us stupid. Deming intuited this decades ago: "Drive fear out of the organization!"
Safety, Noble Goals and Simple Decency are simply good business.
Great organizations, those that have prospered for generations, understand this in their marrow.
(For more on the Great Virtues, see here)