Sunday, June 29, 2008


Traditional thinkers will tell you that “What gets rewarded gets done.” However, Kouzes and Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, suggest that this well worn statement is a little off. In their minds it should read “What is rewarding gets done.” (p. 40 The Leadership Challenge). This thought goes to the heart of what drives a successful organization – motivated people doing meaningful, rewarding work.

Peter Koestenbaum has said that “The most powerful sources of motivation are not money or fear of punishment, but rather pride, honor, self-respect, self-development, and a sense of accomplishment. …(U)ltimately, only you can motivate yourself.“ (p. 160-161 - Leadership The Inner Side of Greatness, 2002)

If it is true that motivation comes from the inside, that you are responsible for your own motivation, and ultimately the quality of your life, then the real question is: What motivates you? And, why have you chosen to do the job you are now doing?

In his book, Crossing the Unknown Sea – Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, David Whyte wonders at how we can “…spend a third of our lives preparing ourselves for our work, and find ourselves forgetting the original inspiration behind all that preparation the moment we take a seat at our new desk.” (p. 164) (See a previous post on this blog “Applying the Diamond to Life” for an additional reference to this work.) Our own motivation brought us to this point, but somehow, once settled behind Whyte's proverbial desk, we allow our motivation to wane and we attempt to substitute the motivation and goals of others for our own.

But true motivation comes from the inside when we are doing what we consider to be “good work”. Whyte says that

“The stakes in good work are necessarily high. Our competence may be at stake in ordinary, unthinking work, but in good work that is a heartfelt expression of ourselves, we know, in the end, we are our gift to others and the world. Failure in truly creative work is not some mechanical breakdown but the prospect of a failure in our very essence, a kind of living death. Little wonder we often choose the less vulnerable, more familiar approach that places work mostly in terms of provision. If I can reduce my image of work to just a job I have to do, then I keep myself safely away from the losses to be endured in putting my heart’s desire at stake. (Crossing the Unknown Sea, p. 13)

By choosing ordinary, unthinking work we may find ourselves in a career path that provides no motivation beyond safety and low risk. These may initially be strong motivators, but in the long run, a safe and risk-free existence may not prove to be fulfilling. Finding work that provides a "heartfelt expression of ourselves" may mean stepping out of the safe and cool shade of uninspiring work into the light and heat of work that provides meaning and a vehicle for us to share our gifts with those we serve.

These authors tell us to shift from believing that others are responsible for our energy, happiness, and motivation to recognizing that we are in control of our own destiny. Understanding this is a key to gaining control of your life and ultimate happiness.

So, the questions become - What motivates you? Are you doing "good work"? Or, are you waiting for others to come along and light your motivational fire?

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Truth As We Know It

Noted author and expert on organizational culture, Edgar Schein, points out that there are many ways to establish what is “true” for an organization, groups, or individuals within a group. These definitions range from the moralistic to the pragmatic (neither of which is meant to be a prejudicial term), from the more faith or belief based to the scientifically tested theories of truth. Schein lays out six types of truth that may be found within organizations or groups:

  • Pure dogma, based on tradition and/or religion: It has always been done this way; it is God’s will; it is written in the Scriptures. 
  • Revealed dogma, that is, wisdom based on trust in the authority of wise men, formal leaders, prophets, or kings; our president wants to do it this way; our consultants have recommended that we do it this way; she had the most experience, so we should do what she says. 
  • Truth derived by a “rational-legal” process, as when we establish the guilt or innocence of an individual by means of a legal process that acknowledges from the outset that there is no absolute truth, only socially determined truth; this includes majority rule where things are decided by a vote 
  • Truth as that which survives conflict and debate: We thrashed it out in three different committees, tested it on the sales force, and the idea is still sound, so we will do it 
  • Truth as that which works, the purely pragmatic criterion: Let’s try it out this way and evaluate how we are doing. 
  • Truth as established by the scientific method, which becomes, once again, a kind of dogma: Our research shows that this is the right way to do it; we’ve done three surveys and they all show the same thing, so let’s act on them.

(From page 102 – Organizational Culture and Leadership, Second Edition, copyright 1992)

So what is true? We all take it for granted that we know what is true. We express our opinions about truth every day in our behaviors, conversations, assumptions, dress, habits, in short every part of our daily life. We express what we believe to be true about ourselves, our employer, our families, our friends, our city, and our country through the acts of daily life.

We seem to know what is true.

But, if the truth is so easy to see and know, why are there so many arguments over what is true, or how people should live, or which culture should survive and which should cease to exist?

Gaining an understanding of how the organizations you work with, and the people you interact with, define their truth will help you understand where the root of many misunderstandings may lie.

In a recent address to the Alliance for Innovation (June 6, 2008 – Greenville, SC), highly regarded teacher, author and lecturer, Rafe Esquith, said that to be a successful teacher you must be able to approach issues from the perspective of the children you are trying to reach. You must first understand the truths of the world from the child’s perspective.

The same advice would be helpful to anyone trying to affect an organization, group or individual – To be a successful leader, first understand the truths of the world as seen from within your organization, group, or from the individual perspective.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Getting the Right Thing Done for Society

(Contributed by Courtney)

Is operating Government like a business really the best thing? Many citizens wonder why things get addressed so slowly and question all of the “hurdles” that bureaucracy adds on. Can society be better served by those who have more of a closed and intimate decision making process rather than try convening a town meeting each time there is a discussion? The answer is different for everyone… it depends on who you ask.

I like to think of Government (be it Federal, State or Local) as a protector. They provide a safe haven and create an environment that many in this world would die to have. Government can be seen as an entity formed to serve as a moral compass for leading people towards safety and an improved quality of life. With the goal of common good in mind, Government promotes an open process to gather all the stakeholders together prior to decision making. Although Government is often criticized for being slow and some what unclear, it can also be viewed as holding a vision for the future and can be applauded for not moving forward based on gut reaction.

Corporate America also belongs in society. Corporate America is a force that drives the world economic market, claims victory when trampling the competition, and supplies the world’s population with commodities to make the globe turn. Their focus is narrow and specific, making Corporate America much more clear and concise. They are driven by profit. Each outcome is defined and precise… no variation... there is no gray. Corporate America has enough flexibility to make decisions in a split second, and has few controls when deciding what is right for them.

The two cultures are poles apart. So is it all about the population who will benefit from the efforts or is it about the dollars spent and saved at the end of the day? That brings us to the ultimate question… do you do what’s right or what matters when managing a business?

In my opinion… there is no doubt as to how Government should operate.

(Editor: Courtney points out an interesting polarity that is worth considering more deeply. She asks: Is it appropriate to run our government like a business? Can you serve the needs of the general population by taking a business approach to dealing with public issues? Any thoughts?

I invite others to join in this discussion. )