I often find myself thinking, “how can leaders motivate valuable action within their organizations?”

Why is this question worthy of consideration? As leaders, our primary directive is to be motivators, which requires thoughtful consideration of what actually motivates people and why.

Motivation is directly correlated to happiness. What makes us happy is deeply personal and varies from person to person. However, a common thread among motivated, happy people is that they feel empowered to forge their own paths. They have a say and stake in what they do.

Effective leaders, therefore, must harness this power of motivation by cultivating environments where people are empowered to do their best work. Leaders help people uncover opportunities that create happiness and motivation. Further, leaders build systems that fan and sustain motivation into the roadmap of a company.

This simple concept has guided me as a leader for some time. Fortunately, the field of technology offers fertile ground to allow individuals to discover their path while contributing to a greater goal. In every technology organization, we get the opportunity to:

  • Think analytically
  • Explore and experiment
  • Grow our emotional intelligence
  • Be creative
  • Collaborate
  • Practice

Assuming we know the above is (at least partially) a true foundational list of motivational drivers, technology leaders can’t simply say, “go be creative” or “think analytically.” That isn’t effective. It isn’t leadership. We need to be transformers.

At this point in my professional life, I’ve observed (often up close and personally) three types of leaders:

  1. Business leaders: They know everything about a business, including where the highest impact jobs exist and, therefore, where there are opportunities for people to add value.
  2. People leaders: They know everything about people and teams—their strengths, weakness, and ambitions. They understand the daily balance (struggle, really) that individuals achieve between adding value and growing professionally.
  3. Transformational leaders: These are a rare, unique combination of the previous two types of leaders. Transformers not only know how to identify roles where individuals add immediate value within an organization, but they’re also acutely aware of how roles change over time and the impact change has on building or decaying a person’s motivational foundation.

Early on, I believed that only transformational leaders were important to a business. I believed we should all strive to transform—perhaps because that’s precisely what we aspire to do when building technology.

While I still believe that technology leaders need to be transformational, I now understand the need for all three types of leaders. They’re representations of three separate—and important—functions of a healthy organization.

  • Business leaders represent the growth of a companywhere we’re headed.
  • People leaders represent the foundation of business capabilitywho we are.
  • Transformers represent the way forwardhow we’ll get there.

All three types of leaders are essential. However, the transformer has a unique challenge, as he or she doesn’t control the starting line or finish line (if there are such things in business). The transformer must strike a balance between people and business while also plotting a way forward.

Being a technologist (and thus a transformer) offers many challenges, however, there’s a silver lining: Technology leaders directly influence (if not outright control) how we move forward through a company’s roadmap. Given this authority, we also command the latitude of creating the framework (environment and practices) that will get us there.

While designing that framework, the wise transformer will consider the motivational foundation of the unique individuals he or she leads.