What motivates people to come to work, to think about work when they aren’t at work, to ponder the problems we face and come up with solutions rather than sit and clock-watch?

I’ve been reading the book, Sea of Thunder by Evan Thomas recently, and these passages about the campaign in Guadalcanal in August of 1942 caught my attention, “Nimitz had visited the overall commander in the South Pacific, Adm. Robert Ghormley, and found him weary and indecisive, his staff beset with defeatism” (p. 68). “In truth, the American marines holding the line on Guadalcanal were rattled by an enemy that cried, ‘Babe Ruth eat s**t!’ before making dead-of-the-night bayonet charges. Exhausted, frightened pilots back from their missions were crawling under the wings of their planes to sob. Marine air commander Gen. Roy Geiger ‘had to kick them – literally kick them – back into their cockpits,’ wrote Halsey in his memoir…” (pp. 68-69).

The American Marines and Navy ultimately won in Guadalcanal because Nimitz knew the men needed a leader, with a vision, and who could motivate his men. “‘Then we got the news: the Old Man (Halsey) had been made COMSOPAC!’ recalled an air combat intelligence officer based at the marines’ besieged Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. ‘One minute we were too limp with malaria to crawl out of our foxholes; the next, we were running around whooping like kids'” (p. 69).

Why were the men on Guadalcanal defeated under Ghormley but victorious under Halsey? Probably because they believed in Halsey, and because Halsey believed in them. For our people to ‘engage’ at work, they have to believe in us and our vision, and believe that we are looking out for them. And it can’t be an act, something you put on when you’re thinking about it. How many times have we run into disingenuous people and we are able to spot it immediately? Unfortunately, too many people in leadership positions have too low an opinion of the people that work for them…and it shows. The military has long known that in order to get men to put their lives on the line, they need someone that can lead and motivate them. In business, lives aren’t usually on the line, but motivation is needed anyway.

— Thomas, E. (2006). Sea of Thunder. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.