+32 (0) 81 20 66 23 info@neurolead.net

How can you maintain and leverage a positive leadership through the coronavirus crisis? We are offering to help you with 5 articles on the subject that will add up to one another over the next few weeks.

Today we will explore new practical ideas to help your teams through Motivation as lockdown is progressively lifted.

otivations (part 1)

Neurosciences show us that , thankfully, the absence of motivation does not exist. Every human being is motivated by many things, which fuel their desire, pleasure and learning.

In fact, a leader does not motivate people, but creates the right conditions, gets rid of roadblocks and develops opportunities and challenges in order to let the motivaions of collaborators flourish and turn into optimal engagement.

The balance of our motivations has been turned upside down by the Covid-19 crisis.

Leaders are puzzled; there are so many uncertainties during this gradual lift up of the lockdown:

  • What consequences have the weeks of stress and self-isolation had on the motivations of teams?
  • What impacts will emerge from the many new ways of flexible working experiences people went through? For instance, as regards teleworking there will be no full way back possible any more.
  • What will be the mindset of people gradually coming back to headquarters or front offices?
  • Now that people realize for sure that this is not a matter of « weeks » but rather of « months » at least, before going back to some form of normal, how are the mid-term organizational safety measures currently being taken going to affect their motivations? It can reassure some and discourage others.

There are no clearcut answers because the current case is unprecedented. But some recent studies are showing evidence of a very significant dip in morale and people’s motivation.

In such circumstances the purpose of a Leader should be to “refuel tanks” (motivations) and to  “restart engines” (positives emotions, pleasure)

How can we do it ?

By stimulating universal motivations present in everyone.

The French and English languages each have some 18.000 words to describe all shades of the landscape of all possible human motivations. We need a map to help us navigate this complex landscape.

Based on neuroscientific evidence, NeuroLead has developped a roadmap and proposes a simple model focusing on 8 universal motivations that have been proven to activate the reward networks in our brains : S.A.M.E.N.E.S.S. ™ which stands for Safety, Autonomy, Mastery, Essence of who we are, Networks, Equity, Status, Sense.

Today let’s see what you can do maximize the first four universal motivations. The other four will be detailled in our next article.


Our deepest need, and the one most threatened by the current context, is to feel safe. It means Being able to anticipate the future through known patterns, with confidence. There are multiple definitions of confidence or trust. According to scientific research, trust boils down to three essentiel ingredients, to be mixed in a specific order: first benevolence, which means the the person perceives that “the other cares about me”; next,  mutual understanding, which means that everyone interacting understands the intentions of the other person; finally, integrity, which means “actually being who you pretend to be”, in a reliable manner. The mission of the leader in the current anxiety-inducing context is to practice these three elements with her/his team.

In practice

  • Benevolence: two weeks ago in a small survey we submitted to with a client’s team, asking which motivations have been amplified by the covid crisis; we found that one of the most emphasized motivations was “I feel reassured and I appreciate working for a company that cares about its employees’ safety and health”. Your challenge is to inspire just that.
    • First, create physical benevolence/safety, by showing that your main priority is not productivity or profits, but ensuring maximum safety by putting into place measures such as: providing masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, respecting physical distancing, implementing protective systems on construction sites, putting up Plexiglas screens, creating itineraries to avoid running into each other.
    • Then, develop psychological benevolence/safety, which we explained in our article from the 31st of march. Make sure everyone can speak without risking being made fun of, criticized or punished. This entails first setting the intention, which means talking about it with your teams; then creating regular opportunities during which your team members can freely express their emotions, their concerns, talk about their mistakes and ideas; finally, you need to carefully welcome and vocally value every input, even if you might disagree with it: “thank you for suggesting this”.
  • Understanding: science shows that the absence of threat, on its own, is not enough for the brain to trust; it also needs clear signs of safety. Indeed, when they are absent – for example when nothing is being communicated – the human brain fills the void by imagining the “worst case scenario”. There are two objectives here:
    • Make your intentions clear and understood: the worst option is saying nothing or lying to someone “for their own good”. The best is to clearly communicate what you know, what you don’t know, what you’re planning to do and why. People are smart. The daily speeches of governor Cuomo of the state of New York are a perfect example: he conveys the facts, the objective data, the developments, the successes and the mistakes, the current plan and the actions undertaken in order to adapt. As a result, people feel like they are in good hands.
    • Make sure you understand the needs of your team members before you act: How are you? How are you feeling? What do you think about this? What do you need? How can I help you? Are simple and effective questions that should take priority, before the usual questions about business issues and objectives. Explore the 5 P’s of your collaborators: their Projects, their Passions, their Points of concern, their Preoccupations, their Priorities. These indicators of motivation are likely to have changed quite a bit in the last few weeks. Your team members need to feel listened to and understood, with empathy and compassion.
  • Integrity: It’s time to do three simple things:
    • Be yourself throughout the crisis, and act according to your personality, your qualities, your strengths and your skills.
    • Be as coherent as you can in your words and actions: say what you are going to do, and do what you said you would.
    • Keep your promises, show you are reliable.


Autonomy means the perception of having control over my environment and choices. In a recent online article of the Harvard Business Review, Lindsay McGregor and Neil Doshi, showed that working from home without having been able to choose, decreased total motivation by 17%, as compared to having been given the choice!

In practice:

  • Choose your words, because they will become thoughts, feelings and motivations to your collaborators: replace words such as “isolation”, “remotely” or “teleworking” with words like “autonomy”, “freedom”, “delegation”, “adaptation”. You will activate more rewarding neural pathways.
  • Have faith and delegate: our old fears about teleworking or alternating between on-site and at home are outdated, since it’s become mandatory. Therefore, “micro-management” has become impossible to implement remotely. Today, the goal is to delegate as efficiently as possible. So, delegate responsabilities, but also, and in equal parts, the decisional powers necessary to bear them, which is called “empowerment”.
  • Give options: when one is being told “how” to do something, the neural pathways of motivations shut down. But, if one is given the choice between two options, motivation increases. Simply put, when you ask something of a team member, give them two (or more) alternatives. Or ask them to come up with their own solutions. In both cases, it is rewarding, and they will feel more engaged.


Mastery in the sense of the master and the apprentice, means being able to develop skills and reach a certain level of expertise and creativity in one’s chosen field. We all freely make intense efforts to develop skills we are passionate about, be it shredding our fingers on guitar strings or spending hours learning a new technique. Humans are spontaneously motivated to improve. You can take advantage of the crisis to mobilize this energy.

In practice:

  • Train your team members: a number of our clients are “taking advantage” of the decrease in activity of some areas (sales associates who cannot meet with customers, factories that are pausing), or of the necessity to adapt in other areas (starting an online store, learning to organize online meetings) to offer their collaborators online training, webinars, videos, in the fields they are wishing to get familiar with or improve in. Developing one’s potential is a powerful source of motivation.
  • Mobilize their creativity: everyone has one or more fields of expertise. Invite your collaborators to mobilize their creativity in their field, in order to contribute to producing something new: a new, simpler process, an unprecedented remote service, an original solution. Give them the opportunity to experiment, to try, to make mistakes and improve in order to contribute.

Essence of who you are 

Philosophy has been debating “who we are” for more than 2500 years. No matter what, an essential component of being oneself is about being able to live according to one’s personality, values and intrinsic motivations. This means doing what we like to do, for sheer pleasure; the energy and will come from ourselves, and are “self-rewarding”. In order to “be themselves”, a salesperson needs to sell, and a researcher needs to do research. It is the greatest source of motivation and “free energy” that you can mobilize.

In practice:

  • Learn about your team members: be it through chatting with them one on one, by observing their spontaneous behaviors and what brings them joy, or by using personality tests, use this period to reassess and invest time into understanding the profiles and the intrinsic motivations of your collaborators. Ask them what they enjoy doing, what energizes them, what they are passionate about. Ask them as well what they have been missing the most during those weeks of lockdown. And adapt your leadership according to their motivations, speak their language so you can “reach” them emotionally.
  • Allocate work according to intrinsic motivations: a person in charge of the IT systems of a bank (someone who could be seen as “serious”) who took part in one of our training sessions on motivations, once told me he had recreated the same training “off-site” with his team. At the end of the day, he observed that “everyone knew about the deepest motivations of their colleagues and was spontaneously adapting to them”. So now what ? I asked.  “Now I allocate the tasks according to intrinsic motivations, it’s more important then formal skills”. And this means? I added…  “Well now it works much better, I need to do less pushing and pulling, people are happier, they go and get the skills they need and are working with a smile on their face”.

We are in the process of adapting to this pandemic, individually and collectively.
And we are already learn a lot from it.
These lessons are changing our lives.
It depends on our choices.

Influencing the Motivations of your collaborators, means guiding these choices.
What about you? After reading this article, what actions are you going to undertake to influence the Motivations of your collaborators?

NeuroLead is bringing this drop in the ocean to help you through it.

Next article: the second part of Universal Motivations : Networks, Equity, Status , Sense


For more information:

Share This