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Leadership Moments

“It’s Always About Trust and Purpose —They’re The Foundation For Motivation”​

November 12, 2020

Martina Muttke, one of our Merryck & Co. mentors, shared smart insights with me about key themes that emerge in her work advising senior executives. She draws on key insights from the world of neuroscience, and has just published her new book, “Build Better Brains: A Leader’s Guide to the World of Neuroscience.

Q. What are the themes that come up most often when you’re advising senior executives?

A. The topic that comes up in almost every conversation is trust as the basis for people being able to collaborate. Together with trust, purpose is another theme that plays a crucial role in a person’s motivation to continue to work with a boss and their colleagues. It’s always about trust and purpose — they’re the foundation for motivation.

Q. Trust is one of those big amorphous words. How do you think about it?

A. Trust has a couple of levels and layers. Trust is one level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that has to be established before you can move up to others. At the top, there is self-actualization, and on the bottom, you have safety and trust. So trust is based on the safety that comes from knowing that your leader will have your back.

Trust is also based on knowing that you can speak up. Trust is based on your hope that everybody will be transparent and honest with you. It’s a multidimensional issue, and it can be the trust among members of the team, between your boss and yourself, and the trust in your company and in the purpose of your company as well.

Q. What are some ways to build a sense of trust among colleagues?

A. There is one question that you can ask people about themselves that can create an instant connection, which is a wonderful base for loyalty, trust and then motivation. The question is, “What is your biggest dream?” You never quite know how people are going to react.

“What is your biggest dream?”

Some people freeze, and are uncertain what to say. I have even seen one person start to cry. And some tell wonderful stories about what they want from life. The question is meant to create a safe space, because people have to trust you to share their dreams.

Q. What advice do you give people if they don’t trust their boss, or if they sense that their boss doesn’t trust them?

A. It’s important to take a step back and try to look at the situation from the boss’s perspective. Where does this feeling come from? Do you open up enough? Do you show some vulnerability that allows your boss to invest some trust in you?

The other possibility is that they are missing something from you. The point is that before you judge or blame, you should reframe the conversation. If you were in this person’s shoes, what could it be that they need from you or are not confident enough to ask for? And you start from there.

Q. Any other themes that come up often in your conversations with people you’re advising?

A. It’s so important for people to continue to learn, to grow and build something in their lives. It is too easy for people to remain in their comfort zone in their careers, which ultimately starts driving down motivation. So it’s worth spending time to explore a person’s hunger and appetite for that learning and autonomy. And there are crucial insights from neuroscience to consider here.

That’s an amazing discovery because it means we’re able to change.

For example, in 1998, a researcher found out something really exciting in his laboratory when he was looking at the brains of some mice. Before then, we have always thought the brain is static, and that there is a fixed number of brain cells. But the researcher discovered that the mice grew new brain cells.

And by now, it’s been proven that in at least a couple of areas in your brain, you can grow new neurons in the part of your brain where you learn and develop more memory. That’s an amazing discovery because it means we’re able to change.

Q. Let’s shift the focus to you personally. What has been the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned?

A. I’ve worked all over the world, and people have the same hopes and dreams. And so the one thing that you can and should do as a leader is to invest the time when you’re working with people to find out what their dreams are – what drives them and what motivates them. Because that’s the basis of everything.

Q. What were important early influences for you?

A. My dad was a refugee from the eastern part of Germany. He came on his own when he was 19 and didn’t have anybody and did everything by himself. The challenging thing for us growing up was that he wanted my brother and me to achieve everything by ourselves as well. He gave us tremendous support and encouragement, but we had to always work hard and take nothing for granted. The good thing was that I have learned to cherish my achievements and I have learned to be very proud and reward myself when I achieve something.

The second important influence for me growing up was my grandma. My family still owns the pharmacy that my grandmother ran by herself, and she became a very successful businesswoman. I spent a lot of time with her during my studies, and she is a role model for me in how to take care of your money and your wealth in an extremely responsible way.

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