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Leadership, Resources, Staff Development

What if your understanding of motivation is faulty? What if that misunderstanding has caused you to frustrate, rather than encourage and inspire, your employees? Or even your kids? What if traditional carrot and stick methods are only temporarily effective at best, and perhaps counterproductive in the long run?


Those are Susan Fowler’s conclusions in her newly updated book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does. Fowler suggests that when we ask why someone isn’t motivated, we’re asking the wrong question.


Why are people motivated?


The question isn’t whether people are motivated. In fact, they’re always motivated. The question is why they are motivated.


“People are always motivated. The question is not if, but why they are motivated.” – Susan Fowler.


Asking why a person is motivated opens the spectrum of motivational possibilities. Fowler describes less effective sources of motivation as suboptimal, and those that are more effective as optimal. Moving toward the optimal side of the spectrum generates energy, vitality, and well-being.


Fowler’s spectrum of motivation goes beyond the typical definitions or extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, although there are common threads with suboptimal and optimal sources. Suboptimal motivation comes from disinterested, external, and imposed sources, while optimal motivation is aligned, integrated, and inherent.


The Need for Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence (ARC)


Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does draws from important research on the science of motivation. In doing so, the book highlights the relationship between motivation and employee engagement, a driver of key business outcomes such as productivity, creativity, and job satisfaction.


Fowler offers an easy-to-remember acronym to better understand the source of motivation and leverage its power. She relates the essence of motivation to three critical psychological needs, autonomy, relatedness, and competence (ARC).


Autonomy refers to the need for choice, or at least, the perception of choice. In the workplace, autonomy is about a sense of having some of control or choice about one does, or how it’s done. This doesn’t mean managers are hands-off, or laissez-faire, but that they allow their employees to have influence.


Relatedness is about connection, to others, and to purpose. People desire to be part of something bigger than themselves to belong with others in the process. Herein lies a powerful opportunity for leaders, to help people find meaning in their work and be part of a healthy team environment.


Competence represents the need for a sense of growth and learning over time. It’s about feeling competent to handle the normal, everyday challenges of the job. Leaders play an important role here as well since the workplace is where people spend the most time. Not feeling competent in the workplace can negatively impact other parts of workers’ lives as well.


When ARC needs are met, people thrive and flourish, satisfying an innate desire that is present in all of us.


A Learnable Skill: MVPs


Motivation is a skill that can be learned, starting with an awareness of where one is on the spectrum of motivation. Fowler offers a second acronym, MVP (mindfulness, values, and purpose) as the key to shifting toward higher level motivation.


The book contains tips for conducting motivational outlook conversations and numerous examples from Fowler’s research and consulting work. The epilogue contains short stories of masters of motivation, such as the great NBA coach Phil Jackson and former Southwest Airlines President Colleen Barrett.


Why Motivation Doesn’t Work…and What Does should be required reading for anyone in a leadership role. It’s an excellent discussion starter for executive teams, mentoring or coaching relationships, and training activities. Beyond the workplace, it has powerful application for parents, teachers, athletic coaches, and youth leaders.


Is it time to shift your approach to leading your team and developing your people? Let’s Talk! Contact me via email or schedule a complimentary strategy call on my online calendar.


Leadership, Resources

A title like A Leadership Kick in the Ass is sure to grab your attention. It certainly makes you wonder what’s inside the cover. And what you’ll find inside this new book are some of the most important leadership lessons you’ll learn this year. As my first leadership reading of 2017, it sets a high bar for other books I’ll read as the year goes on.


Leadership is just plain hard


A telephone conversation with author Bill Treasurer gave me an even deeper appreciation for the book. Bill shared that he started from the premise that leadership is just plain hard. In fact, his original working title was Leadership is Freakin’ Hard.


“We glamorize leadership too much,” Bill explained. “We deify it, put it on a pedestal and make it out of the reach of most people, most mortals. And that’s unfair to a leader.”


“There’s a certain wake-up call that happens for a leader,” he continued. “There’s a certain reality check that leaders eventually confront. Some of it is the fact that leadership is so hard. But some of it is that leaders often get in their own way with their own ego.”


The leader’s choice


An over-sized ego often leads to the leader getting his or her butt kicked. Other kicks may be out of the leader’s control, like the death of a company founder (one of the book’s many relevant examples). Regardless of where the kick comes from, the leader faces a choice.


Unfortunately, many leaders reject the kick and the learning opportunity that comes with it. Some double-down on arrogance and blame, setting themselves up for an even more painful butt-kick later.


On the other hand, wise leaders approach their missteps or setbacks with a teachable attitude. This opens the door for what the book calls “transformative humiliation,” leading to positive behavioral change that helps form a more humble, genuine, and grounded leader.


As Bill writes in the preface, “Good leadership often starts with a swift kick in the ass.”


The key: confidence and humility


Bill suggests that the best leaders lead with a blend of confidence and humility. As the book states, “When confidence and humility are present in the right measure, your leadership strength, influence, and enjoyment will grow.”


An overabundance of confidence results in impulsive decisions, a lack of receptivity to the counsel of others, and the risk that the leader misuses power in pursuit of his or her goals. When the scale tips toward too much humility, leaders don’t trust their own ideas, avoid risk, and bend to fear and people-pleasing.


Chapter 7, creatively titled “A More Perfect Derriere: Confident Humility,” closes with practical tips to help leaders move toward the right mix of these qualities. Among them, Bill points out that sharpening skills helps to build right-sized confidence while serving others results in greater humility.


A powerful tool for reflection, discussion


The best way to leverage A Leadership Kick in the Ass is to pause at the many thought-provoking questions planted throughout the content. Self-observation and reflection are critical ingredients for effective leadership.


As Bill told me, “The best leaders are thoughtful and know what their thoughts are. They’re not just shooting from the hip. They have a depth to them. It’s hard in a really shallow society to have depth if you don’t spend any time observing and reflecting.”


The book is also ideal for team discussion and one-on-one mentoring or coaching conversations. Senior leaders will find it a helpful springboard to share their butt-kick lessons with younger leaders. Emerging leaders will gain an awareness of potential leadership pitfalls that might just prevent a sore rump down the road.


Have you had your leadership butt kicked lately? Or, maybe it’s time for you to kick yourself with the help of a professional coach. Let’s Talk! Contact me via email or schedule a complimentary strategy call on my online calendar.