By Jim Whitt
A headline in an issue of USA Today caught my attention, “Firms spend billions to fire up workers — with little luck. There’s no proof hot coals or speeches motivate the troops.” The accompanying article chronicled some of the more creative ways companies try to motivate employees including shelling out big bucks to have employees walk barefoot across 1,500-degree coals.
I suppose they hope if you can walk across a bed of hot coals barefoot maybe you can hot foot it to work on time.
Some companies cited in the article relied on the more conventional attempts to pump up employees like bringing in a motivational speaker. But sadly, motivational speakers have become fodder for parodies. The late Chris Farley was hilarious on Saturday Night Live as Mac Foley, the overweight, underwhelming motivational speaker who “lived in a van down by the river.”
Motivational books, tapes, CDs and videos are a billion dollar industry. And then there are the posters, T-shirts, coffee mugs and anything else you can print a motivational message on.
But the message doesn’t seem to be getting through. Consider the findings of a Gallup study cited in the article: “…55% of employees have no enthusiasm for their work — Gallup uses the term “not engaged” — based on several criteria, including loyalty and the desire to improve job performance. It found that one in five (19%) are so uninterested or negative about their jobs that they poison the workplace to the point that companies might be better off if they called in sick.”
Billions are spent to motivate employees yet nearly three-fourths of the workforce is unmotivated.
It’s a Jungle Out There
How many times have you heard someone refer to their workplace as a zoo? It’s intended as a joke but it’s not an entirely inaccurate description. Many corporate cultures are, in a very real sense, animal cultures. Reward and punishment continue to be the stimuli of choice to “motivate” people. But remember, that’s not motivation, that’s manipulation.
If people are manipulated like animals they tend to naturally respond like animals. A culture of reward and punishment is an animal’s natural habitat. The result is organizations are full of unmotivated people. And the corporate culture is merely a reflection of the culture at large, a culture filled with quietly desperate, unmotivated people.
The natural world is the four-legged world we live in. It’s a jungle out there and your animal thrives in this natural habitat. Our animal bodies are subject to all of the needs and fears of any other animal. We are being constantly bombarded with pain (punishment) and pleasure (reward) stimuli. To be manipulated by reward and punishment is natural.
Your superhuman is frustrated because it is created to be more than an animal. It wants to be liberated, walk upright and conform to its divine nature — to be like its Creator.
So how can you learn to walk upright in this four-legged world?
To answer that question let’s go back to the USA Today article and see what best-selling author Spencer Johnson had to say on the subject of workplace motivation: “…research may one day show that the only long-lasting motivation will come from employees who bring it to work with them in the form of God, spirituality, or something else that causes them to ‘rise to a higher purpose.’”
In other words, “Without a purpose our only motivation is reward and punishment.”
To be truly motivated, we must tap into what separates us from animals. And here’s where we’ll part company with the behaviorists. We are created in the image of God. We are God-like creatures — supernatural beings — housed in the bodies of animals.
We are the only animals that have the ability to choose our behavior. All other animals are merely responding to extrinsic stimuli. Humans are the only animals with the capacity to be internally or intrinsically motivated. We choose to act or not act on a motive. When we respond to a stimulus we are being reactive. To choose to act on a motive is to be proactive.
Animals can’t be “motivated” because they can’t choose to act on a motive. They can only be manipulated by responding to a stimulus.
If you no longer want to be manipulated like an animal, your superhuman has to rule. To do that you have to understand that your superhuman doesn’t respond to those external stimuli. What it does respond to is purpose. Your superhuman thrives in a supernatural habitat. Your purpose connects you to this supernatural habitat. To be motivated by your purpose is supernatural. When you know and act on God’s purpose for your life, you are the extension of God you were created to be.
It’s like the Force in Star Wars. After Obi Wan Kenobi is killed by Darth Vader, it’s up to Luke to save the day. Luke is caught between two worlds, the natural world he’s always known and the supernatural world he’s just starting to experience. It is at this critical juncture where he is trying to figure out what to do that he hears the voice of Obi Wan’s spirit, “Relax, Luke and let the Force take over.”
When we are on purpose, the Force flows through us, supernaturally empowering us to fulfill what we are called to do.
The superhuman in you is repulsed by manipulation, yet your animal body is conditioned to respond to reward and punishment. When we are merely responding to external stimuli it’s like riding in a wagon pulled by a two-horse team. One horse is named Reward and the other is named Punishment. They battle each other trying to run in opposite directions, swerving from one side of the road to the other. It’s a runaway team and you fight them, trying to rein them in. That’s what life is like when you’re not on purpose. It’s a constant battle of the wills between these two horses.
When you’re on purpose, you’re riding one horse instead of driving two. That horse is named Purpose and he knows where to go. All you have to do is saddle up, give him his head and get in rhythm with him as you gallop purposefully towards your destination.
You can relax, and let the Force take over.
Being Directionally Correct
We admire high achievers, those who set high goals and attain them. Achievement, competence and recognition are not necessarily bad but we can’t assume that reaching the esteem level of Maslow’s hierarchy brings with it happiness and fulfillment. Many high achievers are obsessed with getting to “the top” only to find it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Even Madonna, the self-proclaimed “Material Girl” found life at the top to be a letdown. According to a USA Today article entitled “Madonna’s Epiphany” the study of Kabbalah, an offshoot of Judaism, led her to reevaluate her material ways: “I was super-ambitious, super-hardworking and super-focused, and I’ve gotten a lot of good things I wanted. But I now know the whole point of being here isn’t to be at the top of the list.”
Setting goals when you don’t know your purpose is like trying to map out a route when you don’t know where you’re going. We naturally set and achieve goals everyday. It’s the way we’re designed. You set goals to get up in the morning, go to work, go home and go to bed. Did you achieve your goals today? Sure you did. What happens when you set a goal and achieve it? You set and achieve another one.
But where are your goals taking you? You may be like the test pilot who radioed in and announced he had no idea where he was going but was making really good time. When you don’t know what your purpose is, you don’t know if you are directionally correct.
Being “at the top of the list” doesn’t translate to fulfilling your purpose. You can be successful and still be unfulfilled. Your success may merely be the result of being driven (remember the two-horse team) by your fears and/or needs.
As you evolve from manipulated animal to motivated superhuman, you move to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy and begin to self-actualize. You are now on the path of fulfilling your own unique potential. And you may discover talents and abilities you never even knew you possessed.
When I was punching cows or selling feed, I could not have possibly dreamed that someday I would be writing books or giving advice to people as a management consultant. Believe me, when I got a paddling for talking too much in the first grade, getting paid for giving speeches wasn’t anywhere on my radar screen. I was on the road to fulfilling my purpose at an early age and my teacher tried to beat it out of me.
Are You Self-Actualizing?
Maslow believed the self-actualizing individual exhibited the following characteristics:
1. Being independent of others’ opinions.
2. Being detached from the outcome.
3. Having no investment in power or control over others.
I’ve found these self-actualizing qualities to be byproducts of being on purpose. When we are on purpose we are intrinsically motivated, so we become increasingly less susceptible to external stimuli that appeal to our needs and fears.
All of the needs on the hierarchy are legitimate. My animal has to be fed. But when I am motivated by my purpose, my animal is kept on a short leash and my superhuman holds that leash. My superhuman leads my animal instead of my animal leading my superhuman.
Purpose puts our fears and needs in their proper order. While they are necessary for our survival they should not control us.
Being on purpose empowers me to:
1. Be independent of others’ opinions because I know what my purpose is and fulfilling my purpose is more important than what people think I ought to be or do. Someone will always try to put you into a box of what you are supposed to be and do. When you know you’re on purpose the fear of rejection diminishes.
2. Be detached from the outcome because the outcome is in God’s hands and not mine. I’m in the efforts business and God is in the results business. I don’t get upset if the results don’t match my expectations. I can let the path of purpose take me where I’m supposed to go instead of where I think I want to go.
3. Have no investment in power or control over others because what I want is not important. Fulfilling my purpose is important. If the outcome is in God’s hands, why should I feel the need to manipulate others? As I act on my purpose, I’ve discovered that people come to me at appointed times when I need help.
When I am on purpose I can relax and let the Force take over.
Self-Actualization is not self-absorption. It is its opposite. It enables you to live inside out instead of outside in. Your focus shifts from being self-serving to simply serving. You see yourself as being a part of something bigger than you are. The world no longer revolves around what you want. You instead see yourself as having something unique to offer and you want to be a giver rather than a taker.
“True happiness is not attained through self-gratification,” said Helen Keller, “but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”
A Superhuman Race
The transformational power of purpose is the catalyst that starts an evolutionary process:
– From conception through our early childhood we are totally dependent. We depend on our parents and others.
– As we mature we learn independence. We learn to do for ourselves.
– We struggle with the next step of the maturation process — interdependence. Our animal bodies are completely self-obsessed. I want what I want. But as humans we are created to be interdependent.
Nothing demonstrates this more than how people respond in the wake of a disaster. On September 11, 2001 our world was rocked with surreal images of the World Trade Towers collapsing in flames. We gathered around television sets and watched in disbelief. That was followed by the attack on the Pentagon, the very heart of our armed forces.
Our world changed that day — it got a lot heavier. I thought about that old Eddie Arnold song: “Make the world go away … and get it off my shoulders…”
In Greek mythology it was Atlas who was charged with shouldering the weight of the world. Although Atlas was one of the legendary Titans, a race of gods, he decided the burden was too much to bear. Exhibiting not-so-god-like character, he tried to trick Hercules into assuming his task, but failed. Atlas couldn’t make the world go away and neither can we.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks we called upon God. We prayed to God. We questioned God. How could God allow this to happen? How could these terrorists kill and destroy in the name of God?
We have to remember that human beings are animals. And, as the terrorists responsible for the deaths of thousands of people proved, there are those who choose to be no more than that. But we must also remember our animal bodies serve host to a race of superhumans created in the image of God.
If there is anything positive to come from times of great tragedy it is that it provokes us to rise above our animal natures and assume the likeness of our Creator, even if for only a brief moment. In the words of Cicero: “Men resemble God never so much as in doing good to their fellow creatures.” It is in these times of tragedy that the part of us that is God reaches out to the other members of our superhuman race.
In the days following the attacks, the images of explosions and implosions gave way to images of firefighters, police and volunteers working side by side, day and night; images of people donating food, clothing, money and their own blood; images of those who gathered all across America and the world to pray. It is in these images that we saw the true image of God.
A crisis provides a temporary “purpose” that touches the human spirit and we become the superhumans we were created to be. Unfortunately, when the crisis subsides, we see the mass of humanity revert back to their animal natures and once again fall prey to the manipulation of reward and punishment. These times of crisis give us a glimpse, if but for a brief shining moment, of what happens when the human spirit is liberated to assume superhuman status.
This should not be the exception, it should be the rule. It is the way we are created to live. Not just in times of crisis, but daily.
Atlas was at a disadvantage. He alone was charged with carrying the weight of the world. He had no one to share the task. We possess power far superior to the Titans of Greek mythology. We see it happen time after time in the face of disaster. We become one heart and mind as we stand shoulder to shoulder with the brothers and sisters of our superhuman race to “do good to our fellow creatures.”
And together, upon these many shoulders, we are able to lift the weight of the world.
The Force is with us.
Individually we make a difference, but together we can perform miracles. You and I are part of something bigger than we are and yet we each play an important role. In the words of William Shakespeare, “The world is a stage and all the people players.”
What role are you supposed to play?
The Transformational Power of Purpose: Finding & Fulfilling Your Purpose in Life contains exercises at the end of each chapter that will help you find your purpose in life and set you on the path of its fulfillment.