De-motivation

Posted by jlubans on June 12, 2017

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Caption: Mr. Burns, the quintessential Theory X Leader, preparing to motivate Mr. Simpson.

There’s a freebie question on the final exam for my class, The Democratic Workplace:
“UNLESS I AM CLOSELY SUPERVISED I WILL work less and/or make less effort.”
True False
Of course, there is no correct answer.
Some need to be supervised to do a good job. Others may not; he or she may be hindered by and resentful towards close supervision.
If the student really believes he or she needs minimal supervision, then does this self-motivation apply to other people or is the student somehow unique, an outlier?
Since the final is a team exam (BTW, the group scores were 99, 97, 92 and 87) each group had to answer this. All answered False to this question. Good. I say that because it had to be a group decision, so the individual saw that he was not unique in wanting freedom at work.
I find this relevant to a recent BBC article on motivation,
The right and wrong ways to motivate your colleagues.
It features several bromides and admonitions: “Do you use the carrot or the stick? Using threats and fear to motivate workers is often a recipe for disaster”
The article also uses a straw argument or two. For one, there’s GE’s “rank and yank“ performance evaluation system that purged the bottom 10% of each annual ranking.
While widely condemned, that system may have been instrumental in increasing the value of GE stock by billions of dollars. Perhaps fear was used to trim the organization and from there it could do a better job. Faults aside, the BBC story provides interesting insights into motivation and how it is viewed currently in organizations. For example, here is a research reference which suggests my taking a group approach to finals may not be a total crackpot idea: “One study found workers who believed they were completing a task as part of a team solved more problems, had more recall of what they learned, and worked 48% longer.” Why the difference vs. going solo?
Of course I have been known to mutter about motivation, like I did in “Born or Made?” and in “Motivation; An Eternal Question.
Here’s a relevant note from my 2013 essay: “When teaching library management in the USA I give students a one page, ten question, self-test on theory X and theory Y. (In brief, theory X managers supervise closely, while theory Y managers are more hands-off.)
Each student takes this test twice, once for how he supervises (or would supervise) and once again for how the student wants to be supervised. After scoring the two tests, the students arrange themselves around the room by their scores. There’s usually a wide distribution from extreme X to extreme Y but more often then not the Xs have it.
Then, I ask the students to rearrange themselves by the score for how they want to be supervised. There’s usually a total shift to the theory Y side of the room. Those with a strong theory X inclination in supervising others find themselves wondering, “Why am I the boss that I would not want?” Emphasis added. The BBC article echoes this:
“Become a role model by understanding how you want to be managed,” he says. “Once you understand how you want to be managed, you can apply it to others.”
My major take-away from the BBC article: “You don’t become a leader because of your position, …. You become a leader because people want to follow you.” The title on the door only goes so far. Eventually, if you are to be an effective leader, you must align workers with what you and your organizations wants and what values it professes, what challenges it wants addressed.
The more correlation between leader and followers the better the organization will be and the better the leadership.
How do you do that? Not by memo. You have to explain and model the vision and why it matters. And, then you have to explain it again until everyone understands it (including yourself!). Once internalized, self-motivation can kick in and external efforts at motivation become irrelevant.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($8.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($26.99). The print book, pictured, will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

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Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017
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