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– Guest post by Ryan Brear

I once sat in on a lecture given by a veteran teacher on the topic of how to motivate twelve year olds. He began his talk with a story that went something like this: “I used to be a soccer coach. At the end of each practice all the soccer gear would need to be packed up and carried back to the clubhouse. Every week I would try to get the boys to help me out. But it was hard work. The boys were tired; and the boys were lazy – not a good combination. So each week, after asking nicely and getting very little response, I would need to raise my voice and order some boys around. But the one week something happened that has forever changed the way I understand motivation. On this particular day I just didn’t have the energy to boss the boys around, so I decided to carry the bag myself. One boy saw me struggling under the weight of it and came over to help. I thanked him saying “You’re a good man”. Immediately a bunch of other boys came over to help. I thanked them too, and before I knew it I had the whole soccer team fighting over who could carry the bag.”

As leaders, we are constantly faced with the challenge of having to motivate people. When I first heard this story I realized this wise old teacher was tapping into something about human nature, about how we are wired, about how we are motivated. Here are three things I think he saw:

1) The highest form of motivation is our personal example.

Nothing speaks louder than our actions. The moment the teacher took it upon himself to lead the way and carry the bag, he suddenly had a team gathering around him to help.

2) Praise is more powerful than punishment.

We have all experienced this principle in action. I was a lazy student at school, and no amount of threatening, no amount of detention, was able to motivate me to work harder. But for some reason my geography teacher thought I was amazing, and I ended up working harder for her than any other class. Why? Because she liked me despite the fact that I had a reputation for being a lazy student. She praised me, even when I didn’t deserve it, and that made all the difference.

3) When work becomes play motivation levels climb!

The moment a small group of boys gathered around that bag it sent the message to the rest of the team that there must be something fun going on over there, and something that normally required extrinsic motivation became intrinsically motivating.

As you lead this week, try to be cognisant of the way you motivate people. What ways can you a) lead by example, b) motivate using praise instead of threats, and lastly, c) turn work into play?

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2 thoughts on “The Art of Motivation

  1. Thanks Ryan for a great post. Your point about motivating by using praise instead of threats is so important – to add to that, I think leaders can either motivate through a system of punishments and rewards (punishment for bad work, rewards for good work), or they can motivate by coaching/loving/investing in people. And I think the latter approach will always yield better results – and longterm loyalty.

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