Sunday, September 15, 2013

What REALLY Motivates Us

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A book that I have had on my reading list for a long time and just recently got around to reading is Drive by Daniel Pink. I have heard a ton of good things about this book and was not disappointed after reading it myself. Drive provides a fascinating look at what current research reveals about what truly motivates individuals in the 21st Century. Without spoiling the book for those of you who have not yet read it, the book dispels the myth that people are primarily motivated by "carrot and stick" external rewards such as money. Rather, contemporary research has revealed that people are most effectively motivated intrinsically by providing these three essential elements:  autonomy, mastery and purpose (Pink, 2009).

Contrary to conventional wisdom,  the use of external rewards to motivate individuals to better performance is surprisingly ineffective, especially when it comes to non-routine tasks that involve creativity. Not only do external rewards fail to boost performance, they can actually diminish it. Although the book primarily focuses on the implication this research has on business, the principles discussed are applicable to just about anyone serving in some form of leadership capacity including parents (Pink, 2009).

Taking a moment to ponder this, it is amazing how often external rewards are still utilized in an attempt to motivate individuals to better performance. This is especially true in my field of education and coaching. External rewards and punishments have been a mainstay in the American education system for years despite their apparent lack of effectiveness. If we are being truly honest, our education system overall has done a poor job of providing opportunities for autonomy, mastery and purpose in our classrooms. I cannot help but wonder what our schools would look like if we intentionally focused on these three areas with all students.

If you are a teacher administrator, coach or parent, I encourage you to carefully consider whether external rewards and punishments are the focus of your motivation strategies with the individuals under your leadership. If so, is this approach really maximizing their abilities and potential? Would those same individuals be better motivated to perform their best if you focused on providing opportunities for autonomy, mastery and purpose? 

Based on years of practical experience reinforced by the evidence presented in Drive, I firmly believe that an approach which focuses on building intrinsic motivation is the right one. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, I highly recommend reading Drive for yourself. It is an interesting read and a book that will help you make informed decisions on how to best motivate the people who look to you for leadership.

Please feel free to share any comments or ideas you have on motivational best practices.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Model Behavior

By RICHARD OUTRAM from Wales (Serene Snowdon  Uploaded by PDTillman) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

As a new school year begins, I have been reflecting back on many of the valuable leadership lessons I have learned over the years as a classroom teacher, administrator and athletic coach. I have been fortunate to work under and alongside some very good leaders who have all helped to shape my own leadership development. Although each of these individuals are very different in their leadership styles and personalities, the one constant among all of them is that they led by example through continuous modeling of the behaviors and character traits they expected in those under their leadership.

Whether it is in our workplace or home, all of us serve a leadership role in some fashion or another. Even if it is just one person who looks to you as a leader, mentor or role model, you are a leader nonetheless. With that being said, it is critical that we carefully consider the example we are modeling for those who look to us for leadership and guidance. If there is one thing I have learned through my experiences over the years, it is that both adults and children almost always follow the example set by the individuals that serve leadership roles in their life (i.e. parents, guardians, mentors, work place supervisors, etc...).

Thinking back on my own experiences, I must confess that I have fallen short in this area more than I care to admit; however, these failures have served as powerful learning experiences to help strengthen my leadership ability. In examining my own effectiveness as a leader, the first question I often ask myself is "What are you modeling?" This is a question we must all confront on a regular basis. If the individuals under our leadership are consistently not demonstrating the behaviors, habits or character traits we expect, we must consider the example we are modeling as a leader. More simply, if we do not like what we see, the first place to look is in mirror.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mark of a Professional

By Sofiaperesoa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
As I discussed in my previous post, we all make time for the things in life that are important to us. Taking this one step further, I now want to discuss the importance of making time for on-going and regular professional development. Although the bulk of my professional experience has been in the field of education, I have been fortunate to work with successful individuals in a variety of fields. If there is one constant I have found over the years, it is that people who are excellent at what they do typically devote regular time to their own professional development.

This can come in the form of reading professional literature, attending conferences/seminars, participating in webinars and networking with other individuals in your field of work. Regardless of the type of activity or area of work, successful individuals simply make time for growing as a professional.

The best example of this that I can think of, from my own experiences, involves my mom and dad who are both chiropractors and ran a successful practice together for over thirty years. Despite the demands of running a business and raising three active children, my parents always made time for their own professional growth. I remember my parents reading journals at night, listening to audio courses on cassette tape in the car and regularly attending conferences and seminars. Collectively, this had a lasting impact on me as I do many of the same things myself (minus the audio cassette tapes).

With the ever increasing popularity of social media, high-quality and individualized professional development  is now accessible 24/7 around the globe from any device with an Internet connection. The best part of all is that social media is totally free to use. Whether it is connecting with other professionals through services such as Twitter and LinkedIn, or following blogs of reputable individuals in your field of work, there are a wealth of outstanding professional development options available for anyone to take advantage of. There are no longer any barriers to obtaining high-quality professional development other than simply making the time to do it.

Speaking from my own personal experience, I can honestly say that the connections I have made through Twitter and the following of professional blogs have been my most valuable sources of professional development. The ability to regularly connect with hundreds of successful individuals from around the world in your particular field is simply not possible without the use of social media. With ever increasing demands on our time and limited budgets, we cannot afford to not take advantage of the benefits that social media offers for professional growth. While I certainly believe that the more traditional forms of professional development are still highly valuable and should be utilized, connecting with other professionals through social media is a practice that cannot be ignored if we truly want to maximize our own development as professionals in our field.

Ultimately, this all comes back to the issue of what is important to us and how we prioritize our time. It is undeniable that successful individuals make time for learning and honing their craft. This time devoted to professional development is a distinguishing mark of a true professional. With that being said, I encourage you get connected and take advantage of the benefits that social media offers for your own professional growth. A relatively small investment of your time and effort is well worth the long-term payoff.