The balance between internal and external motivation
Having just come back from a seven-day tournament requiring immense physical application and mental acuity, I find myself deeply focused on motivation and where we get this from. You see, field hockey (or, as they call it in South Africa, “hockey”) is not only a sport that needs bodily power and skill, but also strategy and tactical advancement in order to win. The best team with the fittest girls and most impressive skill can still lose quite comfortably to a lesser team if the right strategy is implemented. This makes me think of the working world where SME’s often come up against larger firms for tenders – what could these smaller companies possibly offer that the larger firms could not? Despite the odds, more and more we’re seeing smaller consultancies running the jobs or acting in an advisory role for bigger and bigger projects. At the end of the day, it’s about the strategy. But more so, it’s about the motivation running the strategy.
We are often faced with beautiful two or three day get-aways where the organisational strategy is considered in line with beautiful things like “visions”, “missions”, “dreams” and the like. But how many times are these ever actually implemented successfully? Before we went on our hockey tour, we had practice games to get us to gel and work together as a team, we had three-hour practice slots where we did fitness to get our physical requirements up to minimal scratch. We used the remainder of the time to practice skills, sequences of dribbles, passes, and learnt what we could do or expect from our players. In the organisational world, what sort of “practice” do we give ourselves before being able to perform at this level? Almost every day in the working world is “game day”, where we are expected to perform to a standard above the norm. So, when do we give ourselves time to practice? When do we give ourselves time to rest and recover? When do we push ourselves to see where and how far we can go? The answer is, simply put, we don’t and we can’t. The working world does not allow for such petty practices – only the real kind that bring in the money and produce immediate value propositions that are tangible to the organisation.
Alright that means that the company then has their beautiful strategy, but has no time to roll it out to ensure that it is practiced and well-rehearsed such that one could perform during their sleep. So, what can they do? Essentially, you need a massive injection of motivation. The interesting thing about motivation is that it is an animal that takes on both internal and external factors. I was quite shocked that, as my tournament progressed, and as I felt my body take on more and more strain, I became more determined, more focused, and more self-motivated. No one was going to get me onto that field and running other than myself. No one was going to be able to get my spirits up except for me. No one was going to be able to motivate my performance other than the self-talk screaming in my head. For those of you who don’t know, on tour by day 5, trust me, your body is quite useless off the field – hobbling up stairs, bruises all over, knees bleeding and scabbing, coughing your lungs out from too much running…it’s not a pretty sight. But put a hockey stick in my hands and put a ball in front of me on the field…and all of that disappears. The bursts of speed, the concentration, the game play – all of it just seems to zone in on those last reserves required to play the game and play it well. The fewer mistakes you make at that point in time, the less you need to run back and fix it. Do it right the first time, and you have just that little bit of extra energy required to keep you going longer.
Interestingly enough, in the organisational context, they expect you to have this internal motivation at all points in time. Speaking from my own understanding of my motivation, I can’t do this for long periods. Put me under pressure, give me high expectations, and I will perform wonders for you. But keep that up for too long and I’ll become flippant, short, snarky, sarcastic, and produce work that is passable – but definitely not on the standard that one would normally expect of me. This mean that the external motivation becomes an important point of energy. And the great thing about external motivation is that, when fed from the outside, it multiplies on the inside, and you get the chance to motivate others as well. It’s an incredible opportunity for cohesion, synergy, and ultimately greatness. There are some instances where the people around you just can’t anymore. They have nothing left. As a team player (in whatever context you want to apply it to, on the field, in your family, in the organisation) it becomes up to you to be that source. In as much as we crave motivation, we also have to provide it to others. Words of positivity are as easy to produce as negative phrases. Just do it, dammit! I hate positive spins on things, but in the moments that count, I make it work for others in as much as I need it for myself. And the effects can be astronomical!
The role of the coach, manager, or boss, becomes pinnacle at these points. And the thing is, if that person isn’t doing it for you, then it’s up to you to find someone who can give you what you need. We are all leaches at that point in time. We all crave more to feed our depleted energy sources. Long hours of work and even longer nights full of doing that little bit extra will only work if we ask, “motivate me!”, otherwise how else will our bosses and managers and peers know that we need that push – that we need that support?
Of course, motivation comes in two different forms. Those that say “impress me” and those that say “let me help you impress yourself”. I’ve worked and dealt with those that you end up performing to spite them more than anything else. They’re the ones where you go “so you think I can’t do this? Just watch. Just wait. You’ll see” – and somehow even with the biggest most impressive outcomes they are still not satisfied with your capabilities, and they still do nothing to acknowledge what you have done. From a managerial point of view, this works – sometimes. But often we find that those people who go out of their way to help you to start feeling good about your own work, to start feeling pride in your own performance – those are the ones who get something a little extra out of your outcomes other than just the outcomes. Those are the ones that get appreciation from you when you do well for them. Those are the ones who we think about when we need to turn to someone. Those are the ones who help us build up ourselves and in turn build up those around us. Those are the ones that keep us going with the strategy even when all else feels like its falling down.
So yes. I can motivate myself. I can put in the extra effort, dig deep, and put out a magnificent performance. But I can do even better with the belief that someone else has in me – I can do even better if I hear that motivation drowning out the haters, drowning out the negativity, drowning out my own pessimism. So yes. Please. Motivate me!
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Wonderwhiterabbit hopping off…
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