How to De-motivate People

A saleswoman with a St. Louis advertising company recently shared this motivational gasp with me during a coaching session.

Her sales director wore a Chicago Cubs T-shirt to the company’s weekly sales team meeting. He opened the meeting by stating, “As you know the Chicago Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908. They lost the World Series in 1906, 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, and 1945. The Cubs are a losing ball club because they don’t work together as team. And, you guys aren’t working together either…”

To make matters worse, this incident took place shortly after the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2006 World Series while fans were still relishing their team’s victory.

Perhaps the director was trying to be clever and get his team’s attention, but the salespeople only heard, “We’re losers!” The director got their attention, but lost their respect.

Given everything that has been written about effective management, it’s difficult to imagine that some leaders still employ the old “Carrot and Stick” motivational practice in the 21st Century.

Still, this incident provides some lessons:

First, the saleswoman should gently tell the director that his Cub’s analogy really hurt people and rippled wave of anger and apathy throughout the organization. As a senior staff member, she not only has the clout to speak with her boss, others look to her for leadership as well. If someone like her doesn’t speak up, the director will think his tactics are tolerable, and he will continue to practice intimidation.

Secondly, I suspect an underlying fear is stoking the sales director’s angry and pessimistic demeanor. He is probably under pressure to meet his revenue goals. Rather than wearing his anxiety on his sleeve, the director needs to learn how to positively deal with his stress. He needs to recognize that his ill-temper only spawns fear. His people need leadership, not condescending and concealed threats.

Finally, the director should understand that he doesn’t need to try so hard to motivate his people. The very concept of motivation is internal or self-starting. You can't motivate people. A person must choose to motivate himself. (For example, only I could choose to take initiative with my handicap.) This director’s job is to create the circumstances in which his peoples’ inherit motivation—their intrinsic commitment and initiative—is released and focused on achievable goals. Currently, he is just de-motivating his people.


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How to find and fix the causes of workplace apathy

The department responsible for maintaining shipping supplies at a mid-sized telecommunications company had done its job — at least, from a numbers standpoint. There were plenty of boxes in the warehouse for shipping the phone systems the company sold. The trouble was: some boxes were white, and some were brown. A minor concern, you’d think. Unfortunately, the discrepancy caused quite a stir.

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