Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Last week as I was going through one of my daughter's homework folders I noticed that she had received an 87 on her spelling test. Now I recognize that an 87 is not really a bad grade, but she typically gets higher scores on these tests. I wasn't upset with her, but when I looked at the words she had missed, it was clear to me that she had not spent much time studying. So, when I asked her about what had happened she said, "'nesesary' is a hard word! And besides I lost my study sheet." It was clear that she had put zero effort into this test, but wasn't really concerned about the fact that she had received a grade that was lower than her usual. To be honest, I didn't really know how to respond. I needed to tell her why it was important to do her best, but I was finding it hard to understand why she wouldn't already know that. In that moment I realized something about motivation. In my whole life I've never needed any other reason to want a 100 on a test, other than the fact that a 100 exists. My personality tells me that if there is a possibility of getting a 100, then of course that's what I want to get. If I ever got an 87 in school, it was clear to me that I needed to do something different next time so that I could get a 100. I guess I never stopped to consider that anyone would ever accept less than that if they had the chance. Now it would be different if someone was working at it and putting in effort and received that grade. But to make a conscious decision not to study because you know that you will pass anyway, is just something that never crossed my mind.

Since that happened, I've started thinking about the difference between leading and motivating. I've always felt like I was a good leader, but I recognize that I'm not the best motivator. What I mean is this...the times when I have been most successful as a leader, I have had staff that was high-capacity and self motivated. My strengths come into play in these situations by helping these groups of people reach consensus, prioritize and focus, and redirecting them when they go off course. However, I have had other situations where a staff member really wanted to be told what to do, and needed "encouragement" in one way or another to get things done, and it ended up being frustrating for them and me. I guess I am learning that I need to grow as a motivator, whether it's as a parent or as a leader. I need to recognize that different personalities are motivated in different ways, and so I need to respond to them accordingly.

Does anyone have any thoughts to add?


Anonymous said...

Great insight Sonshine. I always enjoy your "stuff."

Now, a confession of my own. Larry and I were a couple of years apart in school. In Metropolis the Jr high school and the high school were one block apart. When I became a freshman Larry entered 7th. grade. One day I dropped in to visit one or two of my old teachers, and of course, they were happy to see me. I found out that Larry had one of the same teachers so I asked, "How is Larry doing?" The teacher replied, "Just like you, enough to get by." That was a revelation to me, that my teacher knew that I had much more potential than I had demonstrated in class. These are confessions you don't like to make to your kids or an admission that a granddaughter may have inherited some of her granddads laziness. Now, you must have gotten your drive and perfectionism from your mother. Her standards have always been hard to live up to, but together we make quite a team.

Love ya, Dad

m c said...


what an insightful observation. I struggle with the same thing many times. I've often wondered if it is possible to be both a leader of highly-driven people, and a motivator (manager?) of diversely-driven people. Sometimes I wonder if they are not very different - mutually exclusive, but complimentary gifts. Neither necessarily right or wrong - just different.

I had a professor once that made the following statement that has stuck with me for years: "Fred has the capacity to be an A+ student, but has chosen to put forth just enough effort to be an A student. I guess there isn't really anything wrong with that. But consider this... would you want Fred to be your brain surgeon?"

That has always stuck with me - but perhaps that's because I'm not good with the diversely-motivated either.