Category Archives: commitment

Thermopylae


Thermopylae is a narrow pass (about 50 feet wide) in ancient Greece, between Mount Oeta and the Malian Gulf.  It leads from Thessaly (Thessalia) into Locris.  In ancient times, it was the main route by which an invading army could penetrate from the north into southern Greece.

It is best known for being the site where King Leonidas I died with his 1400 men (of whom 300 were Spartans) during the Persian Wars as they attempted to stop Xerxes and the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. When Xerxes arrived with his enormous contingent of soldiers (Herodotus estimated it at 2.6 million, but it probably wasn’t nearly that high), he expected the small group of Greeks to retreat in light of his superior numbers, but Leonidas and his men refused to move.  In fact, they appeared confident, even calm, in the face of certain death.  Xerxes tried to wait them out for four days, but they wouldn’t leave.

When fighting finally began, it took three days for Xerxes to defeat the Spartans.  The Greeks easily repelled the initial attacks on their position, for what they lacked in numbers, they made up in determination and strategy.  The Spartans believed in a code of courage and discipline.  Retreat and surrender were not options.  They made their stand at Thermopylae, because the narrow pass nullified the threat of Xerxes’ overwhelming numbers.  Further, Leonidas knew that the Persians’ shorter spears made them unable to engage the Greeks at close quarters.

Had it not been for betrayal by a fellow Greek, Leonidas and his men might have held off the Persians indefinitely, but Ephialtes, a Thessalonian, showed the Persians how to use a path over the mountain to attack the Greeks from behind.  Once betrayed, it was all but over for the Greeks.  Leonidas was killed as he helped defend the pass.  Xerxes then dispatched his 10,000 Immortals, an elite fighting group.  The remaining Greeks retreated to a small hillock, where they formed a circle around the body of Leonidas.

Xerxes asked for the body of Leonidas in return for sparing the lives of the remaining Spartans, but the brave warriors refused.  Xerxes didn’t want to command his men to close in on the Spartans, because it was clear that the Persian armies were afraid of the Spartans.  They had never seen such determination and reckless abandon.  The Spartans didn’t care about preserving their lives.  They only wished to die honorably and protect the body of their leader.  Faced with his soldiers’ reluctance to fight, Xerxes ordered his archers to shoot arrows into the dense circle of Spartans until the sky was blackened and every Spartan dead.

Why did Leonidas and the Spartans fight so hard even after the battle was clearly lost?  Leonidas took counsel of an oracle before the battle, who foretold that either Sparta would perish or one of her kings would perish. By his death, Leonidas hoped to sacrifice himself to save his city.  And as it turns out, he did.  While the Persians went on to take Athens, they had been delayed long enough at Thermopylae to allow the Greeks to regroup and reinforce.  Later in 480 BC, the Greek navy defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, halting Xerxes’ advance on Greece and putting an end to his imperial ambitions.  Had the Greeks not be able to repel the Persians, the later contributions of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other Greeks would never have been possible.

The Spartans had cohesion.  They stuck together no matter what the threat.  They didn’t do it because it was their job as soldiers.  They didn’t do it because of the paycheck.  They didn’t even do it just for their love and respect they had for their leader.  They did it, because they had a common purpose that was larger than all of them.  They had a unifying vision and a common enemy to that vision.

If you want the commitment of your team members, you’ve got to give them something worthy to fight for….a common purpose, a common enemy, something larger than the fading motivation of a paycheck.

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Filed under Challenges, commitment, conflict, determination, discipline, Engagement, failure, focus, leadership, management, motivation, overcoming obstacles, ownership, passion, performance, Persistence, pressure, priorities, purpose, sacrifice, team, teambuilding

Money Motivates


Learning how the company makes it, that is.

In an Ernst & Young LLP survey, 59% of employees said that the best way to motivate them is for managers to show them how their jobs help the company make money.

Most employees have no idea how what they do impacts profitability.  Our speeches about the bottom line fall on deaf ears.  Efforts to reduce expenses end in frustration.  Employees don’t really believe that anything they do (or don’t do) makes a difference.

In The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard tells the story of a friend who was a frustrated manager.  He couldn’t motivate one of his employees no matter what he tried.  One day, he saw the employee at a bowling alley.  The employee bowled a strike and went wild celebrating.  The manager realized that while the employee wasn’t motivated at work, he was clearly motivated in other areas.  This led Blanchard to make the following analogy.

If we made the bowling alley reflect how we motivate in the workplace, the pins would all be behind a large curtain so that the bowlers couldn’t see them.  The bowlers would roll the ball, it would pass through the curtain, and the sound of pins falling down would be heard.  However, because of the curtain, the bowlers would have no idea if they hit two or five or ten pins.  What fun is that?

What makes bowling (or video games or just about any sport) fun is that we get immediate feedback on how well we did.  We don’t need to wait for a third-party supervisor to pass along the data; we can see it for ourselves!  We know right away whether we just made things better or worse.  Then, we take that information and use it to inform our next attempt.  If we made things better last time, we do more of the same.  If we made them worse, we make adjustments.

If you really want motivated employees, show them how their actions translate into dollars.  Lift the curtain, and let them see the pins!

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Filed under Attitude, buy-in, commitment, Engagement, feedback, Incentives, management, motivation, ownership, passion

Crazy Maisie


Maisie DeVore had a vision.  She wanted to build a community pool for children to enjoy.  She was worried that there weren’t enough positive and healthy activities for kids in her hometown of Eskridge, Kansas, and she felt that the pool was just the thing they needed.

But she had a problem.  Money.  Maisie decided the best way to earn the money was by collecting aluminum cans and turning them in for recycling.  She began searching for them all around town – in trash cans, behind bushes, along roadsides.  When that didn’t net enough cash, she began collecting scrap metal, then making and raffling quilts, then picking wild berries to sell as homemade jellies.

Her neighbors thought she was crazy.  “Hide the toaster!  Maisie’s looking for scrap metal again.”

Her family thought she was crazy.  Said one, “I never came right out and told her I thought she was nuts, but I said, ‘You know Maisie, are you gonna be okay with this if it doesn’t happen?’”

In truth, no one but Maisie thought she would ever see ground broken on the pool.  But that was all the belief she needed.  She collected cans, scrap metal and berries until she had earned $100,000 ($83,000 from the 90 tons of aluminum cans she found).  When the state of Kansas got wind of what she had done, they kicked in a grant of $73,000 to make up the difference.  It wasn’t long before the pool was going in right across the street from Maisie’s home.

As you may have guessed, Maisie didn’t raise that much money overnight.  It took her 30 years!  During that time, Maisie kept her focus on her ultimate goal.  She withstood the teasing and the gossip and put in the incredibly hard work required to see it through.  Now, her neighbors don’t call her “Crazy Maisie” anymore.  As dozens of kids enjoy playing in “Maisie’s Community Pool” each day, all the neighbors call her “Amazing Maisie!”

(S – “Making a Splash,” CBSNews.com, 7/14/02)

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Filed under Abundance, Attitude, belief, Challenges, commitment, creativity, dedication, delayed gratification, determination, overcoming obstacles, Persistence, Problem Solving, sacrifice, Serving Others, success

Famous Last Words


Talent and genius aren’t always recognized, especially when they are innovative talent or genius.  Just because someone says you can’t doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.  Some of the most successful people in their fields have been denounced at one time or other by a critic who failed to see their potential.

The following list of quotes are about famous people you may have heard of.  Despite the negative feedback, they stuck with it and accomplished incredible things.

  1. “He possesses minimal football knowledge and lacks motivation.” (Vince Lombardi)
  2. “He lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” (Walt Disney)
  3. “Can’t act.  Can’t sing.  Slightly bald.  Can dance a little.” (Fred Astaire)
  4. “Why don’t you stop wasting peoples’ time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?” (Sidney Poitier)
  5. “Try another profession.”(Lucille Ball)
  6. “You’d better learn secretarial work or else get married.” (Marilyn Monroe)
  7. “You ain’t got it, kid.  You ain’t got it.  Now get out of here.” (Harrison Ford)
  8. “You will be a laborer all your life.” (Michael Caine)
  9. “Least Likely to Succeed” (Robin Williams)
  10. “We don’t like their sound.  Groups of guitars are on their way out.” (The Beatles)
  11. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son.  You ought to go back to driving a truck.” (Elvis Presley)
  12. “Hopeless as a composer” (Beethoven)
  13. “Unable and unwilling to learn” (Leo Tolstoy)
  14. “Mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams” (Albert Einstein)
  15. “Too stupid to learn anything” and “non-productive” (Thomas Edison)

 

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Filed under Challenges, commitment, determination, failure, feedback, overcoming obstacles, passion, Persistence

The Competence Cycle


As team members learn how to do new tasks, they will go through four predictable stages related to their confidence and competence.  The leader’s role is to help them progress through the four stages without damaging their self-confidence or causing too much risk to the team or organization.

Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence At this stage, the performer has little concept of what the task is actually going to entail.  She is incredibly excited about it and feels enormous confidence that she is up to the task.  The problem is that this confidence is rarely based on reality.  The confidence comes from ignorance of the skills, knowledge and hard work necessary to complete the task.  Often, performers feel that success in previous endeavors will guarantee success in this one.  Sometimes they are right, but most often they are not.  The leader should be very specific with a performer at this stage.  It’s important to tell her exactly what, when, where and how a task should be done.  Make expectations crystal clear, and supervise progress closely. Think about the last time you took up a new sport.  I’ll use golf as an example.  You watched it on TV, saw the pros do their thing and thought, “Hey, I can do that!  How hard could it be to hit a ball with a stick?”  So, you go out to a golf course and mortgage your house to play 18.  (You didn’t know it was going to be so expensive!)  You head to the first hole and watch the party in front of you.  Looks easy enough.  Your turn.  You set your tee, work a little bit to get the ball to balance on top of it, and then you take a swing!  You strain your eyes to see your first hole-in-one.  Wow!  Those balls are really hard to see…oh… wait.  No, they’re not.  They show up nicely against the green color of the grass.  You take another swing… and another… and another… This is getting embarrassing.  The party behind you is starting to laugh… and then complain.  Now they are getting hostile.  You’ve just entered… Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence This stage is typically a huge letdown for performers.  The high expectations they had have not materialized.  The task is harder, bigger, less glamorous, more work, more expensive…you name it.  They’ve made a big step, though.  Just recognizing that they don’t have the skill set or knowledge for the task is the first step toward getting them.  Now they know what they don’t know.  As long as the performer doesn’t regress to Stage 1 (i.e., go into denial about the skills and knowledge they need), you’ve got them right where you want them.  Now that they know they won’t be the next prodigy, they will typically be much more teachable.  What they need from you is encouragement.  Their confidence has been dealt a blow, and they need to know that this is a normal stage…that all experts were once beginners.  Keep the end result in front of them to motivate them through this stage. Now that you know you aren’t Tiger Woods, you have a few choices.  You can give up – golf must be a hereditary skill that you didn’t get in your gene pool.  Or you can keep plugging (divots, that is).  Get a coach, head to the driving range, practice, practice, practice…  With time, instruction and practice, you’ll reach… Stage 3 – Conscious Competence Progress has been made.  The performer has developed the competence to be able to perform the task.  The problem here is that the performer has to really concentrate on the steps to get it done.  He will typically be hesitant and afraid of making mistakes.  He might over-think the process, leading to avoidable errors and frustration.  Your role as the leader will be to be patient and allow him plenty of practice.  He may need a pep talk from time to time to remind him of how far he has come.  If the performer starts making too many mistakes in a row, his confidence could be seriously damaged.  If you start to see signs of demoralization, give him a break so that he can get his mind off all the steps.  When he relaxes, he will perform better. You are now a golfer, but you’re not enjoying it much.  It takes too much thinking.  Eyes on the ball, legs apart, knees bent, eyes on the ball, pull back, eyes on the ball, elbow straight, eyes on the ball, swing, eyes on the ball, WHACK!  You thought golf was supposed to be fun.  Be patient.  Before you know it, you will cross over to… Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence Eureka!  You’ll rarely recognize the transition from Stage 3 to Stage 4 when it happens, but you’ll be able to see it in retrospect.  One day, you’ll observe the performer, and she will be performing the task without even thinking about it.  Be sure to point it out to her, because she will probably be the last to know.  The beauty of this stage is that the new skills and knowledge have been integrated into the performer’s skill set.  She is now the expert that she originally set out to be! When did it happen?  Who knows?  Overnight, you stopped having to think so much about what you were doing.  Now, you can’t wait to get on the greens.  Everybody wants you to join their group for the upcoming tournament.  Tiger called and asked you for some advice. The Competence Cycle is universal.  All experts were once beginners  – even the Tiger Woods of the world.  While some have natural ability, disciplining it to make it work for them is still a learning process.  Use the Competence Cycle to diagnose your performers.  Then, meet them where they are at to help them move to the next level.

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Filed under Challenges, Change, coaching, comfort zone, commitment, delegation, discipleship, failure, Fathering, feedback, growth, leadership, learning, management, mentoring, motivation, parenting, performance, Persistence, Productivity, Teaching

Why They Are On Top


I ran across some research (Performance Intervention, Sugrue and Fuller) that has been done on top performers across industries and what separates them from the pack.   Take a look at the list of things they typically do, and I bet you’ll see some of your own success tactics listed.

Top performers often do the following:

  • They do away with unnecessary steps.  (Top performers innovate.)
  • They perform an extra step that is needed but not documented.  (More innovation.)
  • They use available information and documentation that others do not.  (Simple, but smart.)
  • They possess a self-created job aid that others do not.  (Hint: Look for sticky notes around their cubical.)
  • They possess information or data that others do not.  (Because they take initiative and search it out.)
  • They possess better tools than others.  (“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”)
  • They possess different motives for performing.  (An internal drive; a goal they are working toward…)
  • They receive different guidance and feedback.  (Uh-oh, this is one you have control over.)
  • They obtain different incentives.  (We don’t have much control over this, unless you consider intrinsic rewards.)
  • They rarely succeed solely as a result of training.  (This one takes me down a notch or two.)

So, if this is what puts top performers on top, why can’t we teach it to our other team members?  Try this experiment… take this list of characteristics and ask your top performers if they use each one.  Document what you learn, and share it with the rest of your team.

If you want more leaders, multiply the ones you’ve got.

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Filed under character, coaching, commitment, expertise, feedback, leadership, management, Productivity, success

The Motivation Killer


A group of young boys regularly stopped by an old man’s house on their way home from school.  Whenever the old man was out in the yard, they would insult him mercilessly.  One day, after enduring another round of jeers about how ugly and old and stupid he was, the old man came up with an idea.  He called out to the boys and met them at the sidewalk.

“Boys, this might surprise you, but I find your jokes at my expense quite funny.  In fact, for anyone who comes back tomorrow and insults me, I’ll pay one dollar!”

The boys were surprised but excited about the prospect of making a dollar.  They showed up early the next day and insulted the old man loudly until he came over and gave them their dollar.

“That was great, boys, but I’m afraid I’ll only be able to offer you a quarter for coming by tomorrow.”

A quarter wasn’t a dollar, but it was still enough to impress the young boys.  Faithfully, they came back the next day and dutifully delivered their insults until the old man came over and gave them their quarter.

“Ah, boys, those were the best yet!  Unfortunately, all I can reward you with tomorrow is a penny for your efforts.”

“What?  A stinkin’ penny!  Forget it!”  And the boys never came back again.

This story is funny, but it also teaches an important lesson about human nature.  When we are rewarded for doing something, we often lose the enjoyment that the task originally brought just for doing it.  It’s almost as if we make the decision that “if they have to bribe me to do this, it must not be worth doing.”  In psychology terms, extrinsic rewards (incentives, bonuses, awards, gifts, accolades…) kill intrinsic motivation (enjoyment of the task for its own sake).

In other words, when we say, “do this and you’ll get that,” our focus is shifted off the “this” (the task) and to the “that” (the reward).  It’s a counter-intuitive bait and switch.  The purpose of the reward is to get better performance, right?  But instead, what often happens is that performers see the task as an obstacle to the reward.  Before long, they are taking the quickest route to completion in order to claim their prize.  Unfortunately, the quickest route is rarely the highest quality route.

Could it be that some of our reward systems are sabotaging the improved results they are intended to create?  Don’t be so quick to offer incentives.  Some work is worth doing in and of itself.  Maybe all you need to do is help the performer see and understand the rewards that are already there.

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Filed under buy-in, commitment, delayed gratification, delegation, expectations, Incentives, Instant Gratification, motivation, ownership, Rewards