I received an email from the wonderful Michael Johnson.

In it was this thought provoking note.  So, I give it to you…

Michael Johnson…

I hear it so often. “You can’t motivate someone else,” people say. “You can’t open up someone’s mind and pour in desire. A person has to want to.” So many people believe that statement to be true. Is it?
That belief system – that we can’t motivate others – is a seductive way to think. After all, we constantly hear complaints from managers in industry that “workers don’t care anymore.” We hear teachers say, “Students are not like we were.” And we hear a line from so many coaches… “I don’t know what’s the matter with young people these days. They’re just not motivated.”
So if so many share that belief, it must be true…right? Problem is I’m puzzled about that.
I’m really confused. Here’s why…
If we can’t motivate people, how and why does any team involved in some sort of competition ever win? If you can’t motivate people, why doesn’t everyone come in last?
Why is the word “upset” in the English language? (If you can’t “motivate” people, the favorite should always win.) Why does one coach have a 70/30 lifetime winning percentage, and another coach only a 20/80 lifetime record? Did the first coach get “lucky” for his or her entire career somehow always being mysteriously blessed only with kids who “wanted to?”
Hmmm. Somehow I doubt “luck” is the answer. So what is? Why do some managers, teachers, and coaches have more success than others?
Maybe the answer has something to do with leadership? Most of us tend to believe high performance stems from the student. Of course that’s true. But maybe high performance also comes out more because of who our boss is and how he or she acts, or because of our teacher and how or she treats us, or from our coach and how we are coached and taught by that person.
Great and gifted “teachers” are rare (not just classroom, but “teacher” meaning anyone who has a positive impact on your life). True teachers have to work hard at their craft. (People who say you can’t motivate others are through for the day.) True teachers get us to listen to them. How on earth do you do that – get someone to listen?
When I returned to the world of roping at forty-five, the first few people I asked for help focused on my age. “Well, it’s been a long time,” they would say. “At your age, I wouldn’t expect too much.” They focused on my limitations. Some years later, I was blessed to find Kenneth Colson and Bronc Fanning – both great ropers and more importantly, true teachers. Rather than talking about what I couldn’t do, they said, “Let’s get to work.” Neither ever offered false hope or artificial flattery. Neither ever promised me something I couldn’t do. They weren’t interested in that. They simply began telling me how to improve. It became obvious to me they believed I could. Which do you think I listened to more? Those who thought I was too old or too lacking in ability? Or those who thought I could?
And about that belief that you can’t motivate someone else – that we have to want to?
When someone says that, I always think of Lee Graves and Jessie. Lee Graves, steer wrestler from Canada, wanted to buy Jessie. Several of his friends counseled against such a move saying the horse just “didn’t have it.” But Lee believed in Jessie and bought him anyway. “I knew that horse just needed to have his confidence built,” he would later say – when Jessie was named “Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year” in the PRCA.

So if “we have to want to,” as most people seem to believe, then surely Jessie must have been standing out in the pasture one day – and decided all on his own – to become one of the greatest bull-dogging horses the world has ever known.
And I always think of Eliza Doolittle in Shaw’s Pygmalion. That young Cockney girl who, according to Professor Henry Higgins, “crooned like a bilious pigeon.” Eliza had no plans, no purpose or grand scheme. She didn’t want “it.” She didn’t even know what “it” was. Her only goal in life was to sell her flowers and stay away from her drunken father. But when she hears Higgins tell his associate, Col. Pickering something, her life begins to change. Higgins points at Eliza and says, “I could pass you off as the Queen of Sheba!”
And Eliza’s soul opens its sleepy eyes – and she becomes more than anyone dreamed.
Can you motivate another?
Sure you can. It’s been done to me.
And to Eliza.
Jessie, too.

– Michael Johnson

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2 comments have been posted...

  1. Just Em

    I’m a math tutor on a small college campus. Today, one of the students I work with was caught cheating on a test. I’ve been feeling so discouraged… What sort of awful teacher am I?
    For the assurance that I can motivate others, and for the motivation to try again myself: Thank you.
    Thank you for this story.

  2. Laurie

    Hi Dawn,
    Great article!
    I’ve been wondering how Aria is doing?
    She was a bucket fund case.
    Is she still wearing the splint?
    Thank you

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