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You Can Do It….Probably

Optimize Blog - November 21, 2016 - 0 comments

Motivational posters abound. They shout at us from office walls, from Facebook, from Instagram, at the gym….they seem to be everywhere. Some are funny, some stir emotions and some bring clichés to a whole new level. Certainly there are a few really clever ones that use words in a way that inspires us to at least consider the message. But do they actually motivate or do they quickly become wallpaper?
If a key part of the role of the leader is to motivate then perhaps all leaders should be supplied with a stash of motivational posters that can be whipped out at any and all available team moments. Well perhaps not. Motivation is a critical skill but a rather nebulous one because different people are motivated by different things and in different circumstances – a truly complex scenario as is normal with us humans. Very little seems simple despite what some motivational posters might say…..
We should be considering situational motivation complimentary and integrated to our situational leadership understanding and philosophy. A great leader is able to quickly determine what type of motivation is required for the team or individual based on the circumstance being faced and based on the make-up of the team. In a crisis scenario the motivation is likely to be very different from the end of year ‘state of the nation’ address. Just as in a managing change situation, the motivational message needs to be addressed at the individual level and be tailored to that individual. Some need more motivation than others and one man’s motivation is another man’s cliché.
Motivation is literally the desire to do things, it’s not just about optimism, determination or overcoming challenges. The reality is that fantasizing that all things are possible is not generally very helpful – there are certain situations which simply cannot be fixed. The key problem with positive thinking is its ability to disconnect us from reality and therefore we might be less likely to consider the pragmatic actions that need to be taken and to identify the potential obstacles that can get in our way.
Gabrielle Oettigen is a professor of psychology at New York University and her research has consistently found a correlation between positive fantasies and poor performance. Apparently the more that people ‘think positive’ and imagine themselves achieving their goals, the less they actually achieve. In addition her research shows that those with more negative, questioning or factual biases work harder at delivering the future state.
Now, we are not here to suggest that people stop thinking positively and we understand that for elite athletes visioning is a critical mental tool in helping them perform at the highest levels. We recognize that having a positive outlook and believing that we can be successful is important but just not without a good dash of reality to keep us grounded. An organization cannot base its strategy on positive thinking just as it cannot base it on hope.
If you have to rely on a poster for motivation then you are truly in need of help although we see a number of these posters advising us that anything is possible – who knew?

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