Stop Trying to Motivate People

Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work

 

People are always motivated. The question is not if, but why they are motivated.

Those two lines immediately stand out in the opening pages of Susan Fowler’s book Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging.

Do you understand the principles of motivation?

If you do, you will tap into a leadership success shortcut that will help you create an organization that performs above expectations.

Susan Fowler is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies and a professor at the University of San Diego. Her research into the science of motivation is important for all leaders to understand and employ. I recently asked her about her work.

 

Research: managers do not know what motivates their people.

 

Understand Motivational Differences

You’re an expert on motivation. You say that everyone is motivated, but everyone is motivated differently. Would you share an example of this from your experience?

An important truth emerges when we explore the nature of motivation. People are always motivated. The question is not if, but why they are motivated.

The motivation—or energy and impetus—a person brings to any action can be qualitatively different. Some reasons people are motivated tend to promote well-being for themselves and others—and unfortunately, some reasons don’t.

Motivation that comes from choosing to do something is different from motivation that comes from having to do it.

Motivation generated from values, purpose, love, joy, or compassion is different from motivation generated from ego, power, status, or a desire for external rewards.

Motivation to compete because of a desire to excel (where the score serves as feedback on how successfully you are growing, learning, and executing) is different from competing for the sake of besting someone else, to impress, or gain favors.

One of the primary reasons motivating people doesn’t work is our naïve assumption that motivation is something a person has or doesn’t have. This leads to the erroneous conclusion that the more motivation a person has, the more likely she will achieve her goals and be successful. When it comes to motivation, it is too simplistic and even unwise to assume that more is better. As with friends, it isn’t how many friends you have, it is the quality and types of friendships that matter.

Imagine you are a sales manager. You wonder if your sales reps are motivated. You look at the mid-quarter sales reports for your two highest selling reps and conclude, yes, they are both highly motivated. What you might fail to notice is that they are motivated differently. The reason one rep works hard is to win the sales contest, be seen as number one, and to make the promised bonus. The reason the other rep works hard is because he values your products and services, his efforts are connected to a noble purpose, and he enjoys problem solving with his clients. The science of motivation provides compelling evidence that there are major implications for the reps’ different types of motivation. The quality of their energy affects short-term results and long-term stamina.

 

“A great irony of leadership is that motivating your people doesn’t work because people are already motivated.” -Susan Fowler

 

Uncover an Individual’s Motivation

How do you uncover someone’s motivation?

Managers can guide people through a conversation that helps individuals explore their feelings related to their task, goal, or situation and reveals their current motivational outlook.

Do they have a negative or positive sense of well-being? Listen to clues in their language; watch their non-verbal body language. (Do they use phrases such as, I have to or I get to? Do they appear defeated, defiant, and defensive or inspired and joyful?)

Is the individual experiencing low or high quality of psychological needs? (Does this person feel in control and recognize they have choices, feel supported and have a sense of purpose regarding the situation, and feel they have the ability to navigate the challenges posed by the situation?)

Is the individual demonstrating low- or high-quality self-regulation? (Is this person mindful, making a values-based decision, or linking the situation to a higher purpose?)

Is the individual’s motivational outlook suboptimal (disinterested, external, or imposed) or optimal (aligned, integrated, or inherent)?

 

Leadership Tip: Help your people find meaning and contribute to a social purpose.

 

What has the science of new motivation uncovered in recent years?

How to Live Eyes Wide Open in a World That Can’t See Clearly

sunglasses on a wood table. live eyes wide open

Live Eyes Wide Open

 

“Worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” -Helen Keller

 

If you want to read an inspirational story of triumph over adversity, of overcoming challenges, this is it.

Isaac Lidsky played “Weasel” on Saved by the Bell: The New Class. He graduated – at nineteen – from Harvard with degrees in math and computer science. He then went on to Harvard Law School and then served as a law clerk at the Supreme Court for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor. His legal career had him winning all of his dozen plus appeals in federal court before he went on the start a tech company. Enough? No. He then went into construction and succeeded again. He also has founded a non-profit called Hope for Vision.

Wow. That’s an amazing track record of success in multiple fields.

All that success and he makes it seem so easy.

Then you learn that he was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare degenerative disease that caused gradual loss of sight and now blindness.

Isaac has learned to live with his “Eyes Wide Open.” His new book is called Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can’t See Clearly. I found it a powerfully motivating read and followed up with the actor turned entrepreneur to learn more about his uniquely positive attitude in the midst of what would stop many of us in our tracks.

 

“Living with your eyes open and living eyes wide open are two very different things.” -Isaac Lidsky

 

Stay Positive Despite the Circumstances

You’ve been through trial after trial and continue to see success. How do you stay positive despite the circumstances?

In every moment, we choose how we want to live our lives and who we want to be, no matter what circumstances we face. There are always people who did far more with far less and were far happier doing it. So, it’s not our circumstances that govern the lives we experience. How those circumstances manifest themselves in our realities is within our control.

 

“In the face of great challenges, you can choose to live reactively as a victim, or choose to proactively take control, with awareness and accountability.” -Isaac Lidsky

How to Engage in Conflict Without Casualties

Lead With Compassionate Accountability

 

Do you avoid conflict at all costs?

Did you know the biggest change agents in history from Mother Theresa to Martin Luther King, Jr. were masters at practicing compassion while still engaging in conflict?

 

Many people avoid conflict. I’m not one of them. I’ve never been uncomfortable talking about issues directly. In fact, I am most uncomfortable when an issue is hidden and unresolved. That makes my already difficult sleep nearly impossible. I’d rather say what needs to be said, and try to move forward.

But I have long noted how most organizations, and most people, avoid conflict at almost all costs. And how to deal with conflict is something that I’m very interested in mastering.

That’s why I couldn’t wait to read clinical psychologist Dr. Nate Regier’s new book Conflict without Casualties: A Field Guide for Leading with Compassionate Accountability. He explains why we avoid conflict, the common pitfalls we fall into, and how to engage in constructive dialogue. I found myself immediately applying his lessons the very next day after reading the book. I’m sure you will find our conversation interesting, and the book immensely helpful.

 

“The purpose of conflict is to create.” -Michael Meade

 

Know the Model: Persecutor, Victim, Rescuer

To those not familiar with the internal drama triangle, would you briefly share the model?

The Drama Triangle was developed by Dr. Stephen Karpman, a psychiatrist who spent a lot of time working with dysfunctional relationships. He was also an avid basketball fan. In fact, he was the first person to identify the triangle offense.

In drama, people play one or more of three predictable roles: Persecutor, Victim, or Rescuer. The Persecutor adopts the attitude that, “I’m OK, you are not OK,” therefore it’s OK to attack, blame, or intimidate to get what I want. The Victim adopts the attitude, “I’m not OK, you are OK” so therefore it’s OK for others to mistreat me. Victims give in and become passive in order to avoid conflict. Rescuers adopt the attitude, “I’m OK, you would be OK if you accepted and appreciated my help.” Rescuers make a living solving everyone else’s problems except their own. They practice what we call non-consensual helping, creating dependence to boost their own ego.

 

“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” -Anais Nin

 

Do most people recognize where they usually operate? 

Surprisingly, no. Many people play these roles habitually, influenced by past experience, upbringing, certain relationships and personality structure. We define drama as what happens when people misuse the energy of conflict, with or without awareness, to feel justified about their negative behavior. Since justification is the modus operandi in drama, avoiding self-awareness is key. Plus, there are some powerful myths about conflict that derail people from using that energy productively. The good news is that people can learn to recognize their drama roles and chose different behaviors, more healthy ways to deal with conflict.

 

“Everybody has a plan until they get hit.” -Mike Tyson

 

You point out that there are strengths behind each of these and that they aren’t all negative. Would you share one and explain?

Yes. For example, behind the rescuer is the healthy counterpart – Resourceful. While Rescuing gives people fish, Resourcefulness teaches people how to fish. Both are problem-solvers, but Resourcefulness goes about it with the intent of struggling with others toward mutual benefit, helping raise the overall confidence and competence of the other person in a spirit of dignity.

 

“If you don’t know where you are going, you are bound to end up where you are headed.” -Chinese Proverb

 

Develop Compassionate Accountability

Harness the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break

Give Yourself a Break

Most of us feel like the world we live in is continuing to move at a faster and faster pace. The rate of technological change is accelerating in a way that makes many of us feel we will never catch up.

Whether it’s home automation, smart cars, or artificial intelligence, nearly everything is being reinvented.

At work, expectations go up each month. We are trying to do more with less, wringing out every last minute of productivity, locked in a world of global competition.

Do you ever feel the need to pause? To take a deep breath?

Rachael O’Meara was working at Google as a customer support manager when she started to struggle. She was burned out and knew that she couldn’t continue without making major changes.

She decided to pause.

And, after giving herself a powerful break, she now shares her experience with all of us. Her new book—with what I think is a spectacularly simple and clever book cover—is Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break. I recently spoke with her about her experience and her new book.

 

“The wisdom is in the pause.” -Alice Walker

 

What’s the Rachael O’Meara definition of a pause?

I define a pause as any intentional shift in behavior that allows you the space to experience a mental shift in attitude, thoughts, or emotions that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred. A few examples are taking a long deep breath, not checking your phone for a set period of time, or doing something outside of your comfort zone that you are interested in. Taking a pause isn’t so that you can think more. It’s to do the exact opposite. It’s the space for you to step away from your everyday life and not focus on what is ruling your thoughts.

 

“Decision is a risk rooted in the courage of being free.” -Paul Tillich

 

Take a Daily Pause

Talk about the daily pause. What’s the best way to do it?

Pausing can allow new ideas to emerge, more satisfaction, and new ways of being and behaving that are aligned with what matters to you. The only requirement is your conscious choice to decide to shift your behavior. One of the easiest ways to do this is through what I call daily pauses. The best way to do this is to start simple and follow your breath. Sit or stand with both feet firmly on the ground and close your eyes if you are comfortable doing so. Place one hand on your diaphragm and slowly inhale, hold your breath, and slowly exhale. Count each inhale until you get to ten breaths. A few other ways to get started is to create a daily one-minute “mindful” pause – while you do something else or on its own notice what you feel, see, hear, taste or smell. Expressing gratitude is another great daily pause where you can set a timer for one or two minutes and write or say as many things that come to mind.

 

5 Signs That You Need a Pause

  1. You use to love your job; now you loathe it.
  2. The boss tells you it’s not working out.
  3. An intervention separates you from your technology.
  4. A major life event, challenge, or change happens.
  5. A new opportunity reveals itself.

 

You share your story of working at Google, your near burnout, your personal experience with a pause. If you fail to take daily pauses, does that build up to a need to take a longer one?

Pausing is about what works for you and consciously choosing to shift. It may not be realistic to take a long pause as I did. Daily pauses are a great way to tune in and notice what you’re feeling or follow a desire that brings you joy or feels nourishing. In my case, I hadn’t done any of that and I wasn’t present to myself or aware of what could help me before I got into my burned-out situation. A pause by no means needs to be that long, and the idea is that if you can build it into your day to shift your behavior that aligns with what matters to you, you can avoid burning out and instead choose to have more breaks within a day and notice what really matters.

 

“The minute you begin to do what you really want to do, it’s a really different kind of life.” -R. Buckminster Fuller

 

We live in a society where many feel they can’t even take their vacation days, let alone a long pause from work. Why is this toxic?

Transform Your Organization with Servant Leadership

Transform Your Organization

I’ve personally traveled all over the globe teaching servant leadership. My book, Leading With Others in Mind, is all about the nine qualities of a servant leader and how every organization can benefit from these practices.

Art Barter recently wrote a journal, The Servant Leadership Journal, which takes readers through an 18-week journey. Filled with space for reflection and exercises, the book is a thoughtful way to reinforce the servant leadership mindset. Art is the owner of Datron World Communications, Inc., and he took that business from $10 million to $200 million using these principles. Because of his passion for this type of leadership, Art has also founded the Servant Leadership Institute.

I recently asked him about his work in this area.

 

“There’s a wonder and magic in leaving your ego behind and serving others.” -Art Barter

 

Find Your Why

What would you say to yourself if you could go back and talk to the Art just starting his career?

I would tell the Art just starting his career to respect authority, find his “why” and not let others define him. And I would tell him to find a mentor who practiced servant leadership. With that kind of attitude, I would have looked for the significance in my career, not just success, at a much earlier age. I wish I had realized the importance of serving first and knowing the joy that comes from helping your employees thrive.

 

 

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” -George MacDonald

 

Why did you decide to do a journal versus a traditional book?

The word “serve” is a verb, an action word. Presenting our behaviors of a servant leader as a journal gets readers involved in action — working to change their behavior, which in turn helps to change mindset. Working through the journal and creating their own visualization for living the behaviors will have a greater impact on their transformation. As Ken Blanchard says, “Leadership is an inside out job.” The journal involves readers with the “inside” work only they can do. The goal is to create leaders who live with an orientation toward serving others.

 

“Leadership is an inside out job.” -Ken Blanchard

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

What’s the best way to change behavior? How do we know which behaviors to change first?

I think the best way to change behavior is to practice, practice, practice. Set small goals and be intentional. You will begin to assess situations differently, from a servant’s perspective. You will approach others with an attitude of, “How can I add value here?”

As for which behavior to change first, one approach we advocate is to work on the Serve First behavior before moving on to the other behaviors. But we also need to meet people where they are, so another approach is to do a self-assessment or have peers assess you on the nine behaviors and work on the ones for which you have the lowest scores.

Through this process, I cannot emphasize enough the need to listen to those closest to you.  They will give you great feedback if you are willing to listen and then act.

 

“The best way to change behavior is to practice, practice, practice.” -Art Barter

 

Cultivate Servant Leadership Behaviors