Flipping the Switch – the art of motivation part #1

“Leadership is the ability to establish standards and manage a creative climate where people are self-motivated toward the mastery of long term constructive goals, in a participatory environment of mutual respect, compatible with personal values.” Michael Vance

The four teenagers sat around the table, voices excited and movements animated as they played a board game. They came from two families, longtime friends gathered for a visit. The play soon became competitive, but not heated. There was lots of verbal sword play. A thrust here, a parry in response, an advance from this one then a retreat from that one. The volume increased but never the temperature. No referee was needed. Even a casual listener could hear they were having fun, lots of it. When one round ended, there was no doubt but that another would be played. The four teenagers stayed at the table for hours.

After considerable time, the father of one of the game players got up from his seat with the other adults who had been chatting across the room, crossed the room to the game table, and watched for a moment. Then, he took a couple of dollar bills out of his pocket, hung them from the chandelier over the table, and announced the winner of the next round could claim them as his prize. “It will make the game more interesting,” he explained when he returned to the others.

Then something happened. The verbal thrust and parry developed a bitter intensity and a sharp edge that hadn’t been there before the prize was posted. The volume went up another notch as did the temperature around the board. The competition became personal…and a good deal less friendly. As the round ended so did the game. The winner reluctantly claimed his prize.  “This,” he said “just took all the fun out of it.”

Now, I realize neither work nor life is a game and the stakes in both are much more meaningful and I know that money is indeed a motivator. But only for some and even then it tends to be only one of many motivations. Today’s employee, partner, worker, staff member, and student value some things as much as money, often more so.

As important as it is for you to pursue your objectives, for you to reach for the outer limits of your circle of concern, it’s as essential to remember that your objectives are not a shrine to which others may be called to worship. Your business, your objectives, your pursuits are nothing more than means by which your needs can be met.

You are motivated to meet them because they are personal and therefore meaningful. Others cannot be forced to meet them and will not be motivated to help you meet them unless and until they, that is your objectives, hold some personal meaning for them somewhere somehow. This series is about methods of attracting and managing the voluntary cooperation of other people.

Do you need the assistance of others? Absolutely! Can you reach the majority of your concerns without them? Absolutely not! Will others come running to help, to contribute, to participate because your concerns are good, beneficial to society in general, or because they hold an important place in your life? Not for long.

Why not? Because the circle of concern is yours, not theirs.

By mere personal authority, appeal, or with money you might be able to buy their efforts for a time, their abilities for a season, or their ideas for a moment, but you cannot buy their heart and the heart is where motivation resides and the reservoir from which it is released.

This story, recounted by W. Steven Brown of the Fortune Groups, illustrates this concept ‘well.

“Several years ago I consulted with a sales organization in the State of Ohio, which had over four hundred sales people, working primarily on a commission basis. One of the managers of the firm took me back to my hotel after the management session we had conducted that day, and said, “Steve, I sure would like you to have you talk with one of the saleswomen in my office.”

I asked, “What about?”

He told me, “Well, she refuses to reach her potential. She could earn a minimum of one hundred thousand dollars a year; she’s never earned less than fifty thousand dollars, but for the past two years she’s refused to make more than thirty thousand.”

Now to me that looked like an interesting situation, and I thought I might like to talk to her because it was so unusual, but I said, “Before I talk with her, tell me a little about her.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, why is she with you?”

“You know, she never wanted to work.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“She was a teenage bride, got married in high school, never graduated. When she was twenty-six, her husband died and left no insurance. With two little girls and no marketable skills, she really took the only job she could get, selling water softeners door to door. She did this quite successfully, saved some money, capitalized herself, and joined us in our business. From the time she came to us, she’s always been one of our top producers–never made less than fifty thousand dollars a year. Now her kids are grown and married, and she only wants to earn thirty thousand dollars. What do you think I ought to do with her?

I told him, “I think you ought to go back to your office, hug her neck, get down on your hands and knees, and pray for four hundred just like her.” Who says she has a potential of $100,000 a year? Her manager? Who says she should earn $50,000 a year? Her manager? Look at the woman’s background: widowed, two little kids, got out in the snow, sold water softeners door-to-door, capitalized herself, came into this business, earned $50,000 a year. Now her kids are grown and married; she wants to earn $30,000 and spend the rest of the year traveling and visiting her grandchildren. Why not? That fills her needs.”

Now, we don’t know for sure why her manager thought she ought to earn more, but we can guess. The more she earns, the more he makes. The greater her sales volume, the larger his sales volume – and the larger his commission.  If he sees her primarily as a means to his ends, she won’t stay because the pressure to perform beyond her motivation will become abrasive and ultimately unbearable. She will judge his efforts as manipulative rather than motivational.

She’s not there to serve him, she’s there because the job meets a need in her life, as are everyone.

So, let’s get this straight from the start. Motivation is a matter of leadership. The people who work for you and with you are already motivated, they just might be motivated in an entirely different direction. How will you as leader or manager turn things around? I’ll show you.

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