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Enthusiasm – the dentist or a long run

​By Græme Gordon, Executive Director, Praxity

Every three months, give or take, I go to the dental hygienist and also try to get a full dental check-up every six to nine months, as my schedule allows. I don’t need to motivate myself to go and readily schedule my next appointment at the end of each visit. Sure, it’s uncomfortable sometimes, but, ‘touch wood’ I’m not suffering from any dental complaint. I think the visits are good practice and more importantly, I need no motivation to attend.

On the other hand – and as readers of prior blogs will know – training, keeping fit and long runs need copious amounts of self-motivation. You might even say it approaches mental self-flagellation! I love good food; no, belay that, I love most food and I love to eat. I also believe I am intrinsically lazy. So, getting up off my couch, into training kit and out on to the road or down to the gym requires a great deal of internal provocation. And, while taking part, there is often that little devil on my shoulder saying things like “Just walk, no one will know” or “Don’t bother. Have another doughnut”. He is most persuasive.

I suspect that most of you will have something similar that needs no impetus while others, even if highly beneficial, need extensive personal motivation to get started. If that’s true of us as individuals, why would we expect it to be any different when we wish to motivate others? Especially for those partners and staff who report to us.

It isn’t at all different.

There is a film about a statistical revolution in baseball, called Money Ball. Now please don’t switch off, as you don’t need to understand baseball or statistics to appreciate one of the messages I took from it. Nor to know the true story it’s based on.

The general manager Billy Bean, played by Brad Pitt, has to motivate two quite different players that he has ‘bought’ cheaply.

One is a young player who’s suffered nerve damage in his arm and can’t throw any more. Something required by almost every player when defending. However, he is still very good as a batter. So, Billy not only gently explains that he has faith in him but also shows how he can become a top first base-man (the only player who mainly catches and doesn’t throw), while still allowing him to excel as a batsman. Billy does this in a gentle fatherly way, because that’s how to motivate this individual.

The other player is almost at the end of a stellar career and is ‘full of himself’. With him, Billy/Brad is brutally straightforward, explaining that he was brought into the team for his experience and to mentor the younger players. When the player challenges him with “that’s not what you’re paying me $15 million for”, Billy growls back “I’m not paying you $15 million. The Yankees are paying most of that because they were desperate to get rid of you!”  Harsh, but history shows that David Justice – the real-life player involved – took it to heart and became the key mentor to the team that then went on to score a record 20 wins in a row. Something to which no other team in history of baseball has come close.

Thus, when I’m trying to motivate one of my ‘team’, whether at work, play or at home, I try to devise the stimulus to suit the individual. What do they enjoy doing? What do they do routinely, like me going to the dentist? What do they hate doing or need extra support to complete? 

Not everyone can do only their favourite things. But not only will you get better performance from an individual if they are mainly tasked in areas in which they excel, but everyone can also do better, even in ‘unwanted’ roles, if you plan the motivation with their unique talents, likes and dislikes in mind.