Hi, I’m Ian McClean. I’m the founder of Flow Group and GreenLine Conversations, and this podcast has grown out of the chaos that’s been thrust upon us. During the podcast, I’m gonna try and share with you. The best of 25 years of helping corporate organizations deal and cope with change. So, as you’re out there, busy making sense of it all, trying to cope, and maybe, in some cases, trying to rebuild your organizations, I’m hoping that some of this can be of some assistance. We’ll keep it deliberately short, because I know you’re busy. Let’s dive in.
So, welcome to the final part of the Motivation Trilogy. And let’s hope it’s not going to be a trilogy killer like The Matrix or The Godfather, or Jaws 3D. It was Father’s Day recently, and as a gift from my 11-year-old son, I received a picture that he’d drawn and painted himself.
This was a picture that he’d been working on for about a month, and before I got the picture, he had shown the finished work to both his mother and his father. And we were both very impressed. However, he presented me with the picture on Father’s Day. And I asked him why it was that he gave me the picture.
And his reply was that he’d made a decision when he was creating the work of art that he was going to give it to either his father or his mother. But on the basis of our reactions, whenever he showed us both the picture, he decided that he chose me. There was nothing rational about this decision. There was no formula that he used to calculate which reaction was better than another.
All it serves to demonstrate is that even an 11-year-old boy has a limbic or a feeling brain that is monitoring unconsciously all of the subtle signals and picking up that information and translating it into action. From a very early age, we are monitoring for threats and rewards. We talked about it in the last two episodes on motivation, the five core elements that influence our motivation and behavior as human beings.
And I guess as we’re on the subject of kids, and we’re beginning to emerge from lockdown, we’ll have seen lots of evidence through the lens of our kids of these five elements in action. How often have one of your children during lockdown felt excluded or overlooked, whether it’s been on the WhatsApp thread or around the dinner conversation where their opinion isn’t being canvassed?
That’s simply status in action. Or how often have they wanted to know what’s for dinner? What’s the plan, Mom? When’s so and so coming over? That’s simply the need for certainty. Or how many times have you heard, don’t tell me what to do? You’re not the boss of me. That’s just autonomy announcing itself. Or one which is most common and most popular…
I miss my friends. Even the ones I don’t like, I miss. That’s a cry from relatedness. And probably the most common and popular of all is; how come he’s got more screens than me? Isn’t it her turn to put the dishes away? Our kids are all fundamentally driven by a sense of fairness. And by the way, we’re just kids with longer legs.
Of the five core elements of the SCARF model, each of us has a dominant one or a dominant two. And having an awareness of our own drivers and other people’s drivers gives us the opportunity to influence, in a positive way rather than in a negative way, people’s motivation and their behaviours. By understanding this and leading accordingly, you create an impact on the other side, which reminds me of the author Maya Angelou’s quote, “People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
So, connecting with people in the areas where they have the most drive and need in a way that inspires them is the key to leadership in this chaotic time.
And the saddest thing that I see consistently over the years is well-intended leaders and managers just pulling the wrong lever at the wrong time, thinking they’re doing the right thing, but it’s actually having the reverse impact. So let’s look at each one of them, one by one, and just understand what it is that we could do and what it is that we shouldn’t do with people who’ve got a high drive in that area.
For many people, status is important in so far as it helps to determine their perception of where they are in the pecking order of things. An extreme version of this in the negative would be narcissism. In moderation, it’s a very, very healthy aspiration. It’s true it helps people with drive and ambition to move forward.
Status during this chaos is particularly acute because so many people’s self-worth and their identity are wrapped up in the work that they do. The suggestion is that we don’t overly criticize people. Many managers and leaders think that the stick approach of always pointing out what’s wrong is a way to motivate people.
Somebody with a high-status need who gets and hears criticism all the time. This is like a threat to their identity, like a life or death threat. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t point out how and where people can improve, but by balancing that with some constructive focus on what people are positively doing and their positive contribution. And I don’t mean what we Irish simply call plamausing somebody, which is a false praise. Which by the way, people’s limbic system and their feeling brain can detect a mile away. I mean, being specific about the action and the impact of that action and how it’s positively contributing to the result.
People’s need for certainty during the chaos is probably one of the areas that is under most scrutiny. Because there’s so much ambiguity. And ambiguity in all human beings creates a stress response. We’ve talked about how to deal with this in more detail in the earlier episodes around clarity. So, providing people with clear expectations and understanding of what the game is, what the roles are, how things are going to work, what you know, what you don’t know, when you will know, creating as much certainty and clarity as you can.
Even if it’s only to say when you believe you will have more information to give, just eases people’s sense of ambiguity and gives them something that they can hang on to. From the perspective of autonomy, this is really in response to a sense of control. One of the greatest stressors amongst humans is the feeling of a loss of control.
Even if the control itself is just an illusion. Anything we can do to help people create choices for themselves, even if choices are limited or there are no choices, by asking them what they can do and focusing on what they can do, reinstates a sense of autonomy and control, even if it’s severely limited.
The last thing you want to do with somebody who has a high autonomy drive is to micromanage. Many people’s motivations in the workplace are derived through their relatedness with others, either in their own team or amongst their clients or their collaborators, and even in this remote environment, anything we can do to enable people to collaborate, to give work where there’s contribution from multiple parties and to connect people, to connect people on the subject of the project or task that’s being done, or through a social means and a social mechanism where you’re getting together even remotely. All of this helps with people’s sense of relatedness and being connected.
Anything we can do as leaders to create a common cause, a common purpose, or a common outcome, where people have got to reach towards one another to connect, is going to help with relatedness. And the worst thing we can do as leadership for relatedness is to remain absent or unavailable. And finally, the fastest way to create disengagement or friction with people is to act or behave in a way that seems to be unfair or that seems to favour one party over another.
The human sense of fairness from the very earliest age is very, very deep-rooted. And the best way we can advocate for that is to remain as transparent as possible, even more than might seem reasonable to us as leaders, and to over-communicate the decision-making process or the rationale behind things.
Because any void, as we mentioned in an earlier episode, will allow people to create their own negative story, escalate up their ladder of inference, and arrive at a conclusion. Which is the basis for so many conspiracy theories that have just mushroomed throughout this whole period of chaos.
I’ve seen so many well intentioned leaders and managers trip themselves up in their attempt to motivate people either by focusing on the wrong driver with their person and assuming because they’re driven and motivated in a particular way, so is everybody else. Or simply accessing the right driver but just pulling the wrong lever and having an adverse impact.
So picture this: imagine you had a leader who only emphasized what was great about you. Was clear always on expectations. That you made your decisions and gave you autonomy to drive forward. Trusts you and connects with the person that you really are and what’s really at issue with you and treats you in a fair and even-handed way in a way that you always know that they are even when you don’t agree with their decision.
They might even be the leader that you thought about when I asked you the question in an earlier episode; of who your greatest leader was in your entire career to date. Understanding the cards you have in your own hand and how others might respond to where sitting around the poker table is the key to success.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this sequence on motivation.
Until next time, stay safe, stay sane, and stay connected.