The Art of Demotivation

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It’s really quite easy to demotivate a department, a team or a person.

We all know not every boss is inspiring. Some people are just not born to lead; for others it takes time, training and patience to get there but they can do it.  Motivation in a leader is an intangible quality – one you can’t physically see in the person, but it’s obvious in that person’s team and how they operate. Is there joy in the workplace or is there toxicity in the air?

joe vs. volcanoWhen you work for a great, motivating and inspiring leader, the workplace can be a wonderful place to be. If there is no inspiration at the helm, the days can be long and dark, only punctuated by those ever-flicking overhead fluorescent lights (i.e. Joe Banks with Mr. Waturi in Joe Vs. The Volcano).

Recently, I overheard an executive in a discussion with one of his direct reports. The conversation elevated to the point the executive was yelling loud enough the entire office could hear. Then, the executive didn’t think yelling was getting his point across, so he began dropping F-bombs as adjectives. It was uncomfortable for everyone and completely unnecessary: the yelling was a good enough indicator of his irritation. Afterwards, when I spoke to the employee on the receiving end of the tirade, he shrugged it off and said, “Oh well, that’s his managing style and it doesn’t mean anything.”

But it does. It means a lot. Yelling, swearing and calling out a team member in front of others is demotivating and demeaning, and a sure way NOT to get the best work from a person or team. It also acts like a virus – one that can bring down a team.

In another example, one former supervisor was just not good at managing his people or invoking trust. He was unpredictable, blatantly showed favoritism, and also had a penchant for dating the women on his staff (a whole separate issue I won’t get into here.) One day while dealing with a particularly difficult client, he put me into the line of fire and stepped away. Afterwards, when I went to discuss this situation with him, he told me, “I would never throw you under the bus.” It was truly a matter of semantics, so my response to him was, “No, not under but you’d throw me OFF the bus, make me out to be wrong in front of the client. Then you’d whisper, “I’ll come back to pick you up later.” His response? He laughed, shrugged, and said, “Yeah, that’s probably what I’d do.”

Two good things came out of that situation: 1) I learned how to motivate myself; and 2) I promised myself I would never do to my teams what he did to me.motivation

When you have a leader who is incapable of motivating, you really have to take things into your own hands. Change your mindset and create your own motivators, set your own goals, ask for feedback from colleagues, and build a support system – both in the company and outside. You can’t always rely on someone to be a solid, inspirational leader. Maybe that means it’s up to you.

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To Meme or Not To Meme

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The world is a meme-filled place.

Years ago when working on speeches or articles, I would reference the site www.quoteland.com for inspiration . Now, all I have to do is open my social media accounts. There I find endless posts on being better, getting better, ignoring the haters, spreading the love, learning I have no limits, focusing on myself, focusing on others, and on and on.

Memes have become the bumper stickers of the 2010s.

Daily quotes, inspiration, one-liners and 140-characters all direct me to change my state of mind, my habits, my global footprint, my interactions with other, my way of living, my everything. Some days it’s too much and my cup runneth over.

What’s Your Inspiration? Sometimes you just have to stop listening to others and just do for yourself. This is my favorite:

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Sister, Can You Spare a Dollar?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about a person I met last week and hoping that wherever she is, she is doing well.

I was in aisle five at the grocery store, scanning a shelf of canned fruit when a petite blonde, wearing light blue sweat pants and a grey t-shirt, scooted past me with her cart basket filled with only a few items. Ten feet past me, the woman stopped short and then backtracked. As I set a can of pineapple in my cart, I warily watched the woman take a breath and approach me.

“Excuse me,” she said, smiling uncertainly. “I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’ve never done anything like this before.” She stopped as if to catch her breath.

I kept a smile but immediately prepared myself for some sort of sales pitch.

“Recently I was in a bad relationship. Domestic abuse,” she said in hurried tone. “But a local church helped me and it really changed my life.”

Clasping my hands in front of me, I was ready to respond that I already had a place of worship, but she seemed like she had a lot more to say so I let her continue.

She went on to tell me that the church had given her hope and help, and one of those ways was by buying her food. She had gone to another store and purchased groceries and meat. “I can’t believe I’m asking this, but would you be able to help me at all?”

This woman appeared to be my age, but that might have been our only similarity. I thought how different our lives must for her to ask for help in the middle of a grocery store. “Of course I can help,” I told her. “I’d be happy to buy anything here that you like.”

She looked down at the floor for a moment and then up again. “Would you mind giving me money? I only ask because the church gave me a gift card that I used at Aldi’s where they have real good prices on meat and I could buy so much more there.”

I kept a smile on my face even as my heart sunk. Here we were, standing in the middle of a grocery store and I offered to buy this woman whatever she needed. And she said no.

She rushed on to explain, “You see, I can buy a lot more at the other store. I had the gift certificate but it ran out.” And then she went on a little more, her story becoming bigger and less focused on food and more on needing money.

I continued to smile but shook my head. “I’m sorry, I can’t give you money, but I would gladly buy you anything you want. I can meet you at the front registers.”

Her smile faltered only slightly. “Okay. That would be good. I’ll see you at the registers.” Then she turned and, retrieving her cart, rushed away.

As I made my way through the store, winding my way up and down aisles, past fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy, I kept an eye out for her. At the front register, the cashier scanned an extra package of chicken for me and then we packed it in with the rest of my groceries. I made sure to look for her, but the woman who was pandering to purchase groceries did not wait to accept the free food.

I have a friend who is one of the kindest and hardest working-at-being-selfless-people I know. She will tell you she is flawed, but for those who know her, she is someone who gives so much to others with a calm, peaceful and hopeful demeanor. I thought of her that day, trying to channel what she might do if the woman had approached her. While I knew the woman in the store needed help, my instinct told me if she truly needed food, she would have accepted it, but if I gave her money, it may only increase her trouble. My friend and I have had discussions about how sometimes doing the right thing can be difficult, especially when you see someone is in pain or a challenging situation.

I can’t imagine what sort of challenges the woman in the store went through to arrive at that situation. I wish I could have helped her in some way, and I pray that she finds a path less challenging.

More Flair!

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Anyone working in a creative or development position cringes and dies a little when a client says “I want something different.” It truly is a challenge to create something that will meet an objective when you get directions like “make it kind of abstract – like you’re looking at art” or “it needs to be something other than this, but I don’t know what.” Without concrete details or examples, it’s more often than not a recipe for failure.DilbertRequirements

Vague direction means you’re going to be in it for a long haul with a lot of revisions and the accompanying frustration and headaches.  You’re not quite sure if/when you’re hitting the mark because the mark is fuzzy and out-of-focus.

Recently I was told to add more FLAIR to content copy without being given insight to what the client thinks is FLAIR. My first thought went to the movie flairOffice Space. However, I was certain the client was not looking for small buttons to add to his suspenders, so I went back and tried to pinpoint that definition. It took some coaxing but I was able to come away with more definitive word choices so I could recraft the content more to his expectation.

It’s important to give clear and concise direction, and an effective way to get the best work within budgets and timelines. Think of it as a “how-to” approach.

  1. Outline the objective
  2. Provide as much detail and directive as possible
  3. Avoid vague terminology open to interpretation (semantics: it may mean something different to someone else)

A great piece of advice is: If the actual outcome differs from the desired outcome, your instructions have failed.

What’s the vaguest direction you’ve received in a project lately? And what was your process for trying to get to the true meaning without overspending, over revising and dying a little inside.

Why Is it Raining If It’s Sunny Outside!?

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The sight of a downpour or rain shower while the sun flaunts its golden rays would immediately raise the ire of a former associate of mine.raining and sunny

“Why is it raining if it’s sunny outside!” he would cry with a mixture of annoyance and befuddlement. “Pet peeve #1!”

Sunshine during precipitation was one of this man’s top pet peeves. He kept a list of pet peeves.  Anytime he brought up a pet peeve, he’d list its number with it.

The car in front of me turned right from the center lane. Pet Peeve #6

The waiter never refilled my water. Pet peeve #87

The skinny girl keeps complaining she’s fat. Pet peeve #142

The loud talker in the cubicle three rows away is on a rant again. Pet peeve #31

His annoyances were varied in topic and frequent in offerings. I don’t recall him repeating the same number and don’t know if he kept an actual list, but it sure was funny and entertaining for the rest of us when he let loose.

I don’t keep a list of pet peeves, but bad drivers, overbearing perfume or cologne, and rude customer service staff would top the list if I did.

Through the years I’ve been fortunate to work with some good people who had fun souls. Now, whenever I encounter a pet peeve, I think of my former associate and his complete and total aversion to sunshine during precipitation. I do hope there are days he waits out the rain to enjoy the rainbow.