Boundless Leadership: 3 ways to boost morale and break down barriers to engagement

Posted by Contributed opinion piece by Zoe Routh on 11th December 2017

Engagement and interpersonal relationships form the core focus of my work with teams. I’m obsessed with dissolving barriers to workplace results and relationships. Morale is often a casualty of things gone wrong.

A workshop participant asked, ‘is there anything I should or should not do when it comes to encouraging positive workplace morale?’

Let’s look at an example to tease out the solution. Consider one of your workplace first day stories. Do you remember what it was like arriving in to a new workplace? What happened in your first interactions? Were they inspiring? Energising? Or cold and depressing?

In my experience, how you start is how you go on. And in this we discover the secrets of morale.

My first day at outdoor education provider Outward Bound Australia was hugely enjoyable. It started the night before where I was met by some staff and had drinks at a pub. This was my first night in a new country, and I was already making friends. My new colleague drove me from Canberra out to Tharwa and was gracious enough to let me know about some of the day-to-day rituals, starting with the morning meeting. Here I met my tribe. I knew they were a tribe because of the uniform: shirts and jackets with the Outward Bound logo, people wearing outdoor fleece jackets, jeans, and hiking boots.

I was introduced and welcomed publicly to the community, given a tour, shown my accommodation, and given my gear: all emblazoned by the OB logo. I was so excited to get a pack of my own with that logo! I felt proud to wear it from the start.

Everywhere there was a sense of hustle. Energy, enthusiasm, and an open curiosity about who I was and where I came from. In short, I felt embraced. I felt SAFE.

Chances are your first day was not at all like this. I find many organisations do a pretty poor job of welcoming people in a genuine and authentic way. And morale is in check from the beginning.

If we tease out what does not work, we find the secret to boundless morale.


  1. Belonging

 We are hard wired as tribal animals to seek belonging and safety in a tribe. It is an early development stage that stays with us and is a primal requirement for security.

Here’s what not to do: not being ready for the first day (computer, work space, induction plan), treating the new person as an inconvenience to be squeezed in between meetings, not asking how they are feeling, where they came from what they are looking forward to and what experience they can contribute. Not making a big deal, or any deal at all about the new team member. Not explaining who’s who at the zoo, what is import to each stakeholder, and what core projects they are working on.


  1. Meaning

 A sure sign of poor morale is when individuals have a uni-focal perspective on “what’s in it for me”. This usually results from the belonging needs not being addressed and people default into survival mode. By focusing on meaning and purpose greater than the individual contribution, and feeling the link between individual contribution and higher purpose, some of the tension from self-protection eases. It is protective energy versus expansive energy.


  1. Gaming

 Work is meant to be enjoyable! How is the ‘game’ of your work? What rules are you playing by? Are they clear and agreed? Or are there some outdated rules that are clunky? What systems create friction rather than flow? Frustration instead of fun? How do you know if you are winning the game of work? Is progress visible and meaningful? What prize do you get when you ‘win’ at work? How often do you celebrate wins and winning? Cleaning up the game of work is a very pragmatic way to boost morale. Just make things easier, simpler, and more fun.


Many leaders let morale take care of itself. This is a huge mistake. When we cultivate morale deliberately, we clean up blocks to boundless success.

What do you need to improve, let go of, or incorporate to manage morale better?




Zoë is on a mission to encourage big thinkers with big hearts to make a big difference. She is passionate about showing leaders how to challenge limitations so they can live and lead with boundless energy, confidence, and conviction.

With over 30 years experience developing leaders, she has published “Composure: How Centered Leaders Make the Biggest Impact” and “Moments: Leadership When It Matters Most.”


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