National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Motivational Tweaking

BY Dave Durand

January 3-16, 2010 Issue | Posted 12/27/09 at 1:21 PM


I’m not sure which is a harder group to motivate — my staff at work or my kids at home. Both seem to ignore my directives all too easily. Any tips on creating the right atmosphere and getting people moving?

Anyone trying to lead either a team or a family has his hands full. The person trying to lead both: Now there’s a leader with his hands full.

Let me suggest four meaningful phrases you can use to build a “productivity culture” at work and at home.

“I believe you can do it.” There’s a big difference between this choice of words and the classic “I believe in you” cliché that every Disney movie and pop-culture song promotes. The latter sentiment is hard to deliver with real conviction, which makes it hard for people to accept it as sincere. Wisdom tells us that wholesale belief in humans leads to disappointment. On the other hand, a discrete belief in someone’s ability to accomplish a specific task is easy to put across. It also sets an attainable goal for the person hearing it.

Subordinates need to know that you trust in their ability to handle their assignments. A statement of confidence is often the only motivator some people need. If you don’t believe in your team this way, it is a good idea to reflect on either your training or your talent-selection process.

“If you fall short, I will understand.” A critic might question me for starting out with low standards by echoing that classic Apollo 13 quote: “Failure is not an option.” It’s true that rare situations call for a “no failure” option but, for most of us, falling short is part of routine growth. In fact, this phrase is most useful where standards are very high. Why? Because the higher the standards, the less likely people will live up to them every single time.

Only one Olympian wins the gold medal in each event, but everyone participating is skilled or they wouldn’t be competing at all. Subordinates need to have a certain level of security if you want them to take appropriate risks. Show me a basketball player who knows the coach will take him out of the game if he misses a shot and I will show you a player who balks even when he is unguarded. A feeling of earned security is a great productivity booster.

“Try to avoid the mistakes I made.” This is an incredibly powerful productivity booster because it communicates humility, confidence, understanding, support and stick-to-itiveness all in one mouthful.

“I trust you.” Many people play a subconscious game of chicken when it comes to trust. They basically say to themselves, “I don’t trust anyone who won’t trust me first.” If you communicate your trust in them, somewhere deep inside they say, “She’s not all that bad. Obviously, she is smart enough to trust me. I’ll reinforce her good judgment.” Trust is like an unidentified box labeled “Fragile — handle with care.” Most of us don’t need to know what’s inside to treat that box with respect.

Finally, remember what Jesus said to Simon Peter prior to Jesus’ arrest: “I have prayed for you, that your faith will not fail.”

Do you pray for your staff and your children? Do they know the answer to that question?

Catholic business consultant Dave Durand is online at