Lead me, follow me or get out of my way!

David Greer is deputy CEO of Royal Dutch Shell’s Sakhalin Energy Investment Company. Now this is a business that is navigating tricky waters – and Mr Greer smartly recognised that staff motivation had taken a dip and needed lifting. A familiar problem to most managers.

So Mr Greer (or one of his staff perhaps) scans a copy of ‘Great Speeches from History’ and finds General Patton’s speech to the troops given the morning before the D-day landings. Here is some prose that will surely put the fire back in their bellies. With some careful updating and other contextual adjustments (including delivery via e-mail rather than face to face), a great, if derivative, motivational e-mail is sent to employees. It is soon recognised for what it is, leaked to the media, and Mr Greer’s problem is 10 times worse. Not only has he now got a de-motivated workforce – he has lost credibility into the bargain.
Most of the criticism that Mr Greer has attracted has been about his failure to find his own words.  His decision not to speak authentically – but to borrow from history.
I think this misses the point.
In modern businesses motivation and inspiration cannot come in the form of the occasional missive from the top.  It has to emerge from the day to day interactions of team members and managers who understand that they are doing something worthwhile. Something that matters.  Who respect and trust each other as members of the team.  Who stay in touch with the purpose and meaning of their endeavour.
In the words of Zig Ziglar:

‘People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily’.

If Mr Greer had presided over an organisation where every manager talked regularly with their team members about why the work mattered, about the importance of what they were doing, about what they as team members really wanted to achieve – his desperate clarion call from the Executive Suite may not have been necessary at all.

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