Category Archives: motivation

Wanted: Crocodile Hunters


Thailand, where I live, is suffering from the worst flooding in over 50 years.  My home in Chiang Mai flooded a few weeks ago, but now the floods are in Bangkok, and most of the city is under water.

An unfortunate side effect of the flooding is the escape of man-eating reptiles.  This from the New York Times World a few days ago:

Thailand is one of the world’s chief exporters of crocodile products, and farms some 200,000 of the animals at 30 farms and 900 small breeding operations, according to the Fishery Department. About 100 were reported to be on the loose in Ayuttthaya, to the north of Bangkok…authorities have put out a call for crocodile hunters offering a reported bounty of 3,000 baht, or about $100 dollars each. (Seth Mydans – New York Times World http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/world/asia/flood-waters-in-bangkok-shut-domestic-airport.html?_r=1)

“Don’t worry,” they say later in the article, “these are friendly crocodiles who move slowly and willingly submit themselves to capture.” (…or something to that effect.)

The three men in this photo apparently believed it, and maybe it was true.  The crocodile might have willingly slipped into their restraining system.  But I doubt it.  He looks really uncomfortable.  And he was free!  Surely the gastronomic choices outside the breeding farm were much better than the slop he was fed inside.

So, assuming that he put up a bit of a fight, do you think the approximately $33 apiece that each of these men earned for risking life and limb was sufficient compensation?  Not for this crocodile hunter.

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Filed under Challenges, culture, funny, humor, motivation, overcoming obstacles, Rewards, Thailand

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

Spud-tacular and A-mash-ing!


The next time your team is faced with an “impossible” goal, try using this visual object lesson to help challenge their disbelief.  You will need a large potato (raw) and a sturdy straw (not the bendable kind) for every person on your team.  Once everyone has a potato and a straw, go through the following steps to impress and amaze:

  • Tell your team that not everything that looks impossible really is.  For example, you hold that it is possible for every one of them to put a straw through a potato (gasps indicating shock and awe!).
  • Ask each team member to stand and hold the potato at naval (that’s your bellybutton) level with their non-dominant hand.  (Fingers should go on the sides of the potato and not on the top or the bottom.  Neglecting this detail could result in an equally neat but somewhat messier object lesson.)
  • Have them hold the straw with their dominant hand.
  • Ask them to put their thumb over the top opening of the straw.
  • Have them visualize the straw going through the potato in their mind’s eye.  (They may need to do this several times in order to squash all unbelief.)
  • When they are ready, have them quickly thrust the straw through the potato.  It should go through cleanly.  (More gasps and some fainting.)
  • Point out that just like they put the straw through the potato, they can accomplish the “impossible” goal.  However, it won’t work unless they believe they can do it and fully commit to making it happen.

I could explain the complex physics behind the demonstration, but why?  Isn’t it enough that it works and has the power to elevate you to legendary status among the dynamic leaders of the world?

 

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Filed under Attitude, belief, Challenges, Change, coaching, creativity, determination, expectations, Goals, innovation, Just for fun, learned helplessness, motivation, overcoming obstacles, paradigm shift, Problem Solving, success

Possibility Thinking


During World War I, a Colonel was notified that his troops were surrounded by the enemy, who was demanding that they surrender.  The Colonel took this message to his troops, “Gentlemen, we have a situation that armies dream of.  We are surrounded on all sides, so we can attack in any direction we want.  All we have to do is pick one and go.  Our danger is if we sit here.”

Now, that’s possibility thinking!  Leadership sometimes requires that we reframe an impossible goal so that our team’s can see their potential for success.

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Filed under Abundance, Attitude, Challenges, Change, coaching, conflict, Denial, determination, faith, Fear, Goals, Hardship, leadership, learned helplessness, management, motivation, overcoming obstacles, paradigm, paradigm shift, Persistence, Problem Solving, Scarcity, success, Suffering, Trials

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

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