By Trevor Wilson

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

– George Bernard Shaw

As I write this article I have been socially isolated in my house for more than 10 weeks. The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, but the most recent stats seem to be moving in the right direction. However, beyond the daily death stats, we are witnessing another fascinating phenomenon related to the inspiring spirit of human generosity. Some are calling this phenomenon the gift of the pandemic. Those who believe in a power beyond themselves have started to refer to the COVID plague as the “Planneddemic,” pointing to these inspiring stories as evidence.

A recent article documented several amazing stories of human benevolence sparked by the coronavirus plague. For example, rival gangs around Cape Town, South Africa, after decades of fighting, have agreed on an unprecedented truce to work together to bring food to struggling households in their communities. Some South African leaders have called it a miracle because they had long given up on the possibility of peace between these gangs. In Naples, Italy, people have been leaving “solidarity baskets” all over the city. The baskets, full of fresh fruit, are for those who are struggling due to COVID-19. Welcoming signs beside the baskets invite Naples citizens to “put in if you can and take out if you can’t.” Across the planet there are many stories like these of people spontaneously helping out their fellow man and woman due to the COVID-19 attack.

The research behind what motivates people to perform these random acts of kindness is important to our area of human equity and to maximizing total human potential. We start with a review of the research on human motivation. In 2009, Daniel Pink wrote an intriguing book, Drive: The Truth about What Motivates Us, in which he argues that the Industrial-Taylorite Age carrot-and-stick approach to motivating employees is out of step with what science has found really works. While most people leaders may have ignored this surprising research, we have found there is an important minority of leaders (approximately 10%) who have figured out how to truly engage and motivate employees. We have dubbed this small minority of people managers the Equitable Leaders®.

Equitable leaders consistently follow the scientific research on human motivation to maximize the total potential of their staff and obtain superior business results. In short, equitable leaders consistently practice human equity.

What is it that these equitable leaders know about human motivation and human equity that others do not? A Canadian scientist Dr Julie Carswell has studied these leaders after 10 years. Her findings are summarized in a 10 year Equitable Leader database. After studying our 10-year Equitable Leader database and observing hundreds of leaders globally, this is what we know for sure.

Equitable Leaders don’t just demonstrate professional behavior; they go further to create equitable and inclusive work environments for all employees. These leaders create environments where people feel valued, respected, and included. Somehow, these extraordinary leaders also create atmospheres of mutual trust, support, and respect, where people feel they have a place at the table that really matters—where they are not just tokens representing the latest diversity group. Most important, equitable leaders ensure that members of their team feel valued because of, not in spite of, their differences. They ensure each person is recognized and developed, and that all talents are routinely tapped into.

Equitable leaders understand that human equity not only means putting people first but also substantially impacts bottom-line results such as increased profitability, improved efficiencies, substantially improved employee engagement reduced costs, and reduced unwanted turnover. While diversity was frequently seen as an exercise in legislated compliance or corporate social responsibility, human equity leads directly to improved employee engagement, which means superior business results.

Not surprisingly equitable leaders exhibit different workplace behaviors. Dr. Julie Carswell and her team developed a list of nine core competencies equitable leaders should demonstrate: openness to difference; equitable opportunity; accommodation; dignity and respect; commitment to human equity; knowledge of human equity; change management; leveraging innate talent and ethics and integrity. She has also developed a unique tool to measure leadership behavior in these areas.

We know that equitable leaders use autonomy, mastery, and purpose to motivate their staffs. Once again, this practice is supported by the research. Autonomy is giving employees a full sense of choice at work. Mastery is the desire to get better at something that matters. And purpose is working on something bigger than you. Some describe it as working on something that will live beyond you.

The opening quote by George Bernard Shaw was written well before the creation of human equity and the present global health crisis. Yet I used it to explain the need for human equity based on what we learned from the “top 10 percent” equitable leaders. Purpose will be an important consideration in the post-COVID working environment.

A friend of mine is a living case study of someone who has long been searching for purpose at work. He has a cute coffee cup which he proudly displays on his desk that reads, “Some days the best thing about my job is that the chair spins.” While I wouldn’t call him a selfish clod, I do find him spending a lot of time complaining that the world will not devote itself to making him happy.

What I think he longs for is purpose. He wants to be part of something much bigger than just his paycheck and benefits package? Perhaps this would change if he felt he had a unique and important contribution to make to his place of work.

During this time of the latest human plague, many of us are searching for the answer to the question, “Is this all there is?”

As Daniel H. Pink put it in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us:

Every thirteen minutes another hundred people—members of the wealthiest and best-educated generation the world has ever known—begin reckoning with their mortality and asking deep questions about meaning, significance, and what they truly want. When the cold front of demographics meets the warm front of unrealized dreams, the result will be a thunderstorm of purpose the likes of which the world has never seen.

Trevor Wilson

Trevor Wilson

Global Human Equity Strategist, Toronto, ON. He is a dynamic speaker, a visionary thought leader and a global diversity and Human Equity strategist. Wilson is founder and president of TWI Inc