Defining Leadership

Leadership: Motivation Magic

Wally Bock asked:

Motivation sometimes seems a lot like magic. Some people can do it. Other people can’t. Your boss tells you that you need to “motivate your people,” but doesn’t tell you how.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “motivate” as “to give someone a motive.” It goes on to define “motive” as something that causes a person to act. In business you’re told to “motivate” the people who work for you. In police work, we’re told, you solve a crime by figuring out the motive.

I’ve got the motive, which is money, and the body, which is dead!

In the movie, In the Heat of the Night, Police Chief Bill Gillespie is sure he knows who committed the murder that Detective Tibbs was originally arrested for. After all, Chief Gillespie has figured out the motive, or so he thinks.

But he was wrong. You’ll be wrong, too, if you think you can figure out people’s motivations. You can only guess at motivation.

You can observe behavior, what people say and do. You can observe performance. Since that’s all you can observe, that’s all you can manage.

Don’t worry about the horse being blind. Just load the wagon

When John Madden was the coach of the Oakland Raiders his players sometimes challenged him when he asked them to do something. Rather than explain in detail, Madden would just reply: “Don’t worry about the horse being blind, just load the wagon.”

In other words, don’t worry about the things you can’t control. Spend your time on the things you can control.

You can’t get inside someone else’s head and make him or her want to do something. You can’t control another person’s behavior.

But you can control your own behavior. And you can use your behavior to influence the choices that other people make and the actions other people take.

Tell your people what you want. Then make sure they understand.

Do things that support what you say. We call this “walking your talk.”

It’s simple. If you pay attention to productivity numbers, so will the people who work for you. If you comment on people’s appearance, they will pay attention to appearance.

It can work the other way, too. If you pay attention to how neatly reports are formatted instead of paying attention to the content, your people will catch on. If they have to make a choice they’ll spend their time and effort on making reports look good, rather than beefing up content.

In the end, managing is all about behavior. But it’s not about misbehavior.

Ain’t misbehavin’.

I was a bright, active, talkative child in a world where children were expected to sit still and be quiet. Consequently, I was in trouble a lot when I was in school

Time after time my teachers would call my mother and ask her to come down to school because I was “misbehaving.” When they used that word, it was a certainty like night following day that they would get one of mom’s favorite lectures.

Mom would turn her mom look on Miss Smith or Mrs. Sally or Mr. Schnabel. “There is no such thing as ‘misbehavior,'” she would say. “There is only behavior.”

“You are calling what my son does ‘misbehavior’ because he’s not doing what you want him to do. But he’s got a reason. Now let’s see if we can figure out what we can do so he’ll want to do what you think he should do.”

If more bosses had listened to my mom, more workers would be productive and happy. That’s because people do things for their reasons, not yours. Your job is to figure out how to make their reasons work for you.

You can’t control their reasons or choices, but you can control the consequences of their behavior. As one of my trainees once put it: “The just should be rewarded and the unjust punished in accordance with their deeds.” There are two kinds of consequences, positive and negative.

If at first they don’t succeed, praise, praise again.

Praise is the most common and easiest to deliver positive consequence. Recognition, awards, promotions and special privileges are also positive consequences.

Use praise to encourage. Encourage them to try new or uncomfortable things by praising their efforts. Encourage them to continue doing good things by praising their work. There are simple rules for praise.

Praise specific actions or performance that you want to encourage. Don’t praise people just to praise them.

Deliver praise inconsistently. Don’t praise every good thing or your praise loses its power. But most US managers are nowhere close to praising too much. They don’t praise enough.

That’s why there’s one more rule. You should look for opportunities to praise that meet the criteria above.

Stop in the name of love.

A reprimand or correction is a negative consequence. So are formal punishment and discipline.

You use negative consequences like reprimand to get people to stop behavior or performance that you don’t want. Be specific about the behavior or performance you want to change. Many times you will get best results with a mix of negative consequence for unacceptable behavior and praise for efforts to change.

Negative consequences of all kinds should be delivered consistently. If you promise that it will happen, make sure you keep your promise.

Be wary, though. Remember Mark Twain’s Hot Stove Rule. Twain noted that a cat who sits on a hot stove will not sit on a hot stove again. But he won’t sit on a cold stove either.

If you use negative consequences too much or exclusively, your people will stop the behavior you want to stop. But they’ll also stop trying.

Wouldn’t it be magic?

The science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In other words, if you can’t figure out how it’s done, it will look like magic to you.

If you use your behavior to influence the behavior of the people who work for you, it will look like magic to others. “Wow,” they’ll say, “That manager sure is a motivator.”


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