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Lead from Need

Four Ways to Motivate Employees

by Ascanio Pignatelli
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His CEO performance review is in and Scott is clearly alarmed. Unless next quarter’s KPI goals are met the Governance committee will ask for his resignation. He grabs his phone and calls Jarin, his gregarious college roommate and the person who transformed Silicon Beach’s most dysfunctional company into one of its most electric. “Jarin, I need your help. My staff is not producing like they once were. They are lethargic, apathetic, unmotivated, dis…” 

“Disengaged,”interjects Jarin. “So how are you keeping your people engaged?” 

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“We’ve been investing heavily into employee engagement programs, but they’re not really working. We keep pouring money into recruiting and retaining the best. We even keep increasing salaries, benefits and perks, basically giving them everything they want, but nothing’s working.” 

“The problem is you’re giving them what they think they want, but not what they really need,”explains Jarin. “Your employees are emotionally detached; their real needs aren’t being met. Fat salaries and perks are great, but what they really want is to be inspired, connected and living a life of purpose. They need to feel valued. As their leader you need to lead from need. Once our basic survival needs have been met, we all aspire to satisfy the four deeper needs: connection, contribution, freedom and growth.” 

Jarin is right and is part of a new wave of leaders who know that to get the best out of someone you need to coach and empower them to greatness. As a leader in your organization you want to ensure that your employees feel they are: 

  • Connected: building relationships with others
  • Contributing: doing something meaningful
  • Free: have a sense of choice and autonomy
  • Growing: developing personally and professionally 


Companies with employees who have strong personal ties to each other have far higher engagement rates than those that don’t. To connect with your employees, create greater trust and loyalty by being more authentic. Great leaders don’t fret over public opinion and neither should you. Let go of who you think you should be, and just be yourself. You will gain their trust and respect in the process. Be vulnerable. Show them the real you. We all have the same fears of not being good enough, smart enough or worthy enough, so why pretend we are the exception? The best managers connect deeply with their employees by paying attention to what’s important to them. Carve out some time each week to grab lunch or a coffee with your key team members. Find out what they enjoy doing outside of work and get to know them personally. Finally, let them know that you and the company care for them. As their need to belong is met, they will give more of themselves, which, in turn, fuels their next need: their need to contribute. 


Studies show employees are happiest when they know they are making a difference and helping others. Often their contribution goes unnoticed. Metrics for measuring an employee’s contribution should shift from measuring their individual performance to measuring their team’s performance. How are your staff members influencing those around them? A staff member with excellent soft skills who constantly uplifts his fellow employees is an incredible asset to your team, yet this won’t show up in any assessment. To help your workers feel they are contributing something meaningful you can try recognizing and publicly celebrating their accomplishments as often as possible or sharing a client story that shows your employee the difference they are making in someone’s life. 


Self-direction is the key to performance, creativity and engagement. The real you only shows up when you feel free. Employees are far more loyal and productive in workplace environments that respect their freedom and encourage their self-expression. To ensure your staff feels a sense of autonomy remind them that everything they do is a choice. Choice is power, and when your employees believe they have a choice they will become more engaged in the process. Align their choices with their values, not their fears. When we choose from fear, our actions lack power. When we choose from our values our actions have more power, more meaning and more energy. Give your employees more flexibility to accommodate their schedules. What long-held beliefs might be blocking new win-win opportunities? Decentralize whatever authority you can to give your workers more decision-making power. This will empower them and make your company much more efficient. 


If your staff feels they are not making progress in their own personal development they will soon become disconnected and seek opportunities elsewhere. Ensure that each employee is constantly challenged so that they can grow. The greater a person’s belief in their own power to influence an outcome, the more likely they are to succeed with a new challenge. To help your employees grow, try building confidence. Challenge any belief they might have that is limiting their performance. For example, if an employee thinks they aren’t experienced enough to manage a project you can remind them of their unique strengths and capabilities. 

Another way to promote growth is modeling. Have inexperienced employees watch other colleagues with similar skills perform more advanced tasks. Seeing others with similar abilities succeed at a task will help them develop positive, “can-do”beliefs. Recognition and positive feedback are key to helping your employees feel more competent, motivated and open to growth. Negative feedback can devastate those with low self-esteem. Finally, optimize the environment. Create a vibrant, energetic, stress-free workplace that encourages your employees to get the food, exercise, rest and water their bodies need so they can perform at their best. 

The most successful CEOs in the world unleash the energy and creative power of their employees by honoring those four needs: connection, contribution, freedom and growth. They know that what really motivates people–once their basic financial needs have been met–is their desire to grow and develop as human beings, connect and collaborate with others, and contribute something to a worthy cause. Like Jarin, you can inspire your employees to reach their full potential by making your company a place where those four needs will be met. 

About the Author

Ascanio Pignatelli is an award winning speaker, seminar leader, coach and author of the forthcoming book Lead from Need. He is the founder of ApexCEO, an executive coaching and leadership development group that helps C-level executives develop the leadership and communication skills to create more engaging workplaces. To book Ascanio for your next speaking event or workshop, please call him at 310.913.2313 or visit