“There are few things more important in the world today than what you are doing here.”

These words greet every visitor to the David Attenborough Building in Cambridge. The people who are based here work for a range of organisations and disciplines, including the University of Cambridge, the RSPB and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre. They’ve been brought together to understand and preserve ecosystems and biodiversity – under greater threat than ever.

When I noticed this quote on the wall above the reception desk, my first thought was about how wonderful it would be to be reminded of this, every time you come to work. Only a vanishingly small proportion of us will do jobs or work for organisations which are saving the planet – but these people are.

What about the rest of us mere mortals, who aren’t putting men on the moon? Where do we find our motivation? What’s your role as leader?

If you want to really motivate the people you lead, be really clear about the purpose of your organisation, and your team, and help people to understand it, to engage with it and to shape it. And if the only thing you can come up with is “shareholder value”, you’re in trouble. Because guess what: unless your people are themselves shareholders, they don’t give a shit about shareholder value. They care about their salaries and benefits; they may care about the organisation growing because they can see future growth for themselves. But do they come into work every day thinking “I really want to make that rich dude even richer”? Nah.

In my experience, people do care a great deal about impact, and recognition. They are engaged when people use their products, or they do a good job serving a customer. And they really, really appreciate some acknowledgement for it. We might all want to save the world; most of us would be perfectly content with making a dent in our particular part of the universe.

Dan Pink’s book, Drive, brings themes of autonomy, mastery and purpose together to describe the context of great working environments. And coaching can be a great tool to give you clarity of purpose for you and for your team. Leaders can find out more about our coaching approach by getting in touch.

Oh, and that living wall, in the photo at the head of this article? Sir David Attenborough abseiled down it when he opened the building, just shy of his 90th birthday. Legend.

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