“So, what’s the difference between motivation and manipulation?” I asked. “My kid is in the back seat of the car, and I ask him to put on his seat belt. I tell him that if he puts it on, we will go get ice cream as a reward.
“What is it? Motivation or manipulation?” The class sits on the question. Several want to leap out of their chairs with the answer, but they know it will make them a target for the discussion.
“My kid is in the back seat of the car, and I ask him to put on his seat belt. I tell him that if he doesn’t put it on, he won’t be able to play on the computer tonight.
“What is it? Motivation or manipulation?”
“But, I think understanding motivation is important for a manager,” Bailey protested.
“And so, when did you become a mind reader?” I asked.
“You know very well, I don’t pretend to be a mind reader,” Bailey continued to push back.
“Yet, there you go, looking for something inside a person that you cannot see.”
“Then, just exactly what are we supposed to do?”
“Don’t play amateur psychologist. Stay out of people’s heads. If you want to know who people are and what they are capable of, don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do. If you want to play the motivation game, you will find a ton of popular psychology, pop psychology, answers. There are books and assessments that propose to teach you the insights we should all have, as leaders, about those on our teams. But, if you want to be an effective manager, you have to think differently. And you cannot think differently if you continue your search in this invisible stuff. You will confuse yourself and those around you.
“If you want to know who people are and what they are capable of, watch what they do.”*
These were the watchwords of the late Charles Krauthammer observing the behavior of presidents and presidential candidates. “Don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.”
So, I left Shannon to ponder why. Why was she drawn to be a manager? Late in the day, I got this email. I asked her if I could share it.
“I thought about what you said. I guess being promoted to manager was just the next thing. This is different than I thought it would be.
“You asked me why? I think I just wanted to be more important. I think I wanted more responsibility. And now I have it.
“But you were right. It wasn’t really for the money. It wasn’t so I could order people around. I just want to make a difference. A difference for the company, a difference for the people on my team and to make a difference for me.”
I think Shannon is on the right track. It seems that she has a cause. But having a cause is not enough. To be a truly effective leader, Shannon has to be had by the cause. And right now, I don’t think she understands the cause enough to be had by it.
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Shannon stared at her desk. She didn’t look depressed, but certainly not happy.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Not much,” she replied. “I was really ready to come back to work from the holidays, but yesterday was a barn burner. Ever since I was promoted to manager, things have been different around here. It was so much simpler when I just came to work and punched a clock. Most of the time, it’s great, but there are times when things are just so frustrating.”
“So, why did you want to become a manager?”
Shannon furrowed her brow. “I don’t know. I just got promoted.”
“Why didn’t you turn it down?”
“I never thought about it. It was a promotion, I got a raise.” I could see in her face that she had never explored this question before.
“That’s the reason most people become managers,” I said, “for the money. But if that’s the case it never lasts. The second reason is ego, you know, all the authority to push people around. But that doesn’t last very long either. Management is hard work, times get tough and if you are going to survive, you have to discover why you are drawn to be a leader.”
And so I left Shannon to struggle with the same question I am asking you. Why are you drawn to be a leader?
When I trained for a marathon (at the ripe age of 39), Thursday would arrive at 3:30a. The alarm clock would ring and I had a decision to make. I could throw it against the wall and return to my slumber, or I could put on my shoes and head out the door.
At 3:31am, I put together the connection between vision and motivation.
The goal was clear, 16 miles, in the cold. But for some reason, that goal did not get me going. In fact, counterproductive reality. The only thing that got me out of bed was the vision at the end of the marathon. My vision was a slow-motion movie-like first-place finish breaking the tape, wind in my hair, looking sharp in my fancy running togs. It was only that clear and compelling vision that got my feet on the floor.
Here is the truth. Your team doesn’t care about your goals. They are not exciting. The only tool you have, as a manager, to get your team juiced up, is a clear and compelling vision of the future. A vision complete with vibrant color, exciting sounds and the smell of success. It is a description of the details that breathe life into a project. Vision is where enthusiasm lives, energy, drive and inspiration.
“It is difficult to lead the charge if you think you look silly on top of a horse.”
I am often asked to describe the most important qualities of leadership. What does it take to make a good leader? There are many qualities. Today I am thinking of Mastery.
Mastery is the beginning of self-confidence. Many times, people believe they can pump themselves up with a motivational book or by attending a motivational seminar. While there are temporary positive feelings of invincibility, it doesn’t take more than a few hours for that to wear off.
True self-confidence begins with mastery. “Mastery over what?” – just about anything that requires some new degree of skill, anything that requires a person to truly push performance beyond their current level of self-confidence. Most folks seldom push themselves beyond their current limits, for fear of failure. It is in the facing of that fear (fear of failure) that I see true growth, a new level of mastery. There can be no mastery without the possibility of failure.
When was the last time you pushed yourself beyond limits? When was the last time you engaged in something new, something that required you to think in a new way, that required more tenacity than you have ever mustered before? It doesn’t come from a book. It doesn’t come from a seminar. Get off the couch, go do something new.
“I am not satisfied with things,” Emily said. “I know there is more to being a manager than management.”
“You have been a manager for a couple of years, now. What exactly, are you dissatisfied with?” I asked.
“There are times, when it seems, I am only able to get people to do what I want by forcing them to do it. By being a bully, or threatening. Not directly threatening, but, you know, do it or else.”
“And how does that work?”
“Not well,” she replied. “I may get some short term compliance, but as soon as I leave the room, it’s over.”
“Emily, the pressure that people are not willing to bring on themselves is the same pressure you are trying to tap into. If they are not willing to bring it on themselves, what makes you think you have the ability to overcome that?”
“But that’s my job, isn’t it?”
The ball lifted off the tee with a wobble before moving sideways from right to left, arching into moderate grass off the fairway. Harvey’s next shot went vertical, over his head, then smack into the turf at his feet.
“Who were you thinking of?” I asked.
“No one. What do you mean? It was just a lousy shot.”
“I mean your second swing. Who were you thinking of?”
“I was just letting off steam. Wasn’t thinking of anyone.”
“If you were thinking of someone, who would it be?”
“I don’t know. I was thinking about the guy who taught me how to play. He would have been a little disappointed.”
“Who is this guy? Do I know him?”
“No, he was a pretty old guy when I learned. And I was only nine years old.”
“I was just curious.”
Kurt Lewin tells us that individual action is a myth. Our behavior is always influenced by groups or individuals, even if they are not physically present. To gain insight into a person’s behavior, all you have to do is find out what group or person the individual has in mind.
Who do you have in mind, that is affecting your swing?
How many of your team members, do you suppose, drove to work this morning, thinking, “I will come to work today and do a really crappy job?”
Wipe that smirk off of your face, you know it is not true.
What makes the difference in the performance of your team members? Each morning they arrive at work, ready for the day. They could perform well, or they could perform poorly. What makes the difference?
Managers will most often agree on this management challenge: How do I motivate my people? My team seems to suffer from a lack of motivation. If I could just figure out how to motivate my people, everything else would fall in line.
The difference between poor performance, good performance and superior performance is the simple result of a choice. Managers cannot motivate their teams into high performance. Individual team members choose high performance. For every manager, the challenge is to create the circumstances where people most often choose the high road.
Marjorie was puzzled. Twenty minutes ago, she adjourned a meeting with her development team. The purpose of the meeting was to share the newly published annual business plan. For the first time since Marjorie joined the company, the vision, described in the plan, finally made sense. They staked out a customer base and nailed down objectives for the next twelve months. It was the clearest flag the company ever planted. Then, why didn’t the team respond enthusiastically?
Which flag do you care the most about? Which flag does your team member care the most about? Here’s the news, nobody cares about your flag. People only care about their own flag. Companies are great at describing their own flag, but nobody cares. Customers don’t care, employees don’t care. People only care about their own flag.
As a Manager, to have any hope in the areas of motivation and alignment, you have to find out the flags of each of your individual team members. Finding out about the flags of your customers doesn’t hurt either.