REFLECTION: It was a sunny clear October day, and my husband, Dave, and I (along with another 20 passengers) were enjoying a sailing adventure on the Mar, a 65 foot tall ship that plies the Halifax Harbor. About a half an hour into the trip, we made our way to the stern to check out the view from aft and chat with the crew.
After a few minutes of conversation, Captain Tim looked at me and asked, “So, do you want to steer the ship?” Of course this prairie flat-lander jumped at the opportunity. For the next 30 to 40 minutes, I found myself at the wheel, taking instructions from the Captain: “Line up to the second pillar on the bridge. Hold her steady. Shift a bit – one spoke to starboard.”
Wind in my hair. Sun on my face. Excitement in my blood. I’m pretty sure my Norwegian Viking ancestors were bursting their buttons to see one of their own as a deckhand. Although I made no navigation decisions, only followed instructions, I turned the ship around in the harbor, sailed between two offset marker buoys, came around the other schooner cruising the harbor, and headed the Mar to dock. Thankfully, the captain took over before we got too close to land. Steering is one thing – braking quite another! (Can you actually brake a ship?)
Anyway, the adventure turned out to be one of the highlights of my vacation. As I’ve been reading this week about motivation and engagement in the workplace, my brief sailing experience has morphed into a learning lab of its own.
You see, in a matter of moments I went from being someone who was ‘along for the ride’ to someone who was deeply engaged in the journey. In fact, I was so focused on the task at hand, it wasn’t until I handed the wheel back to the captain that I noticed my hands were bitterly cold, and my body was chilled from the breeze.
Here’s what got me so engaged. The Captain noticed my interest, and extended an invitation to try something new. He gave instructions bit by bit – on an as-needed basis – drawing parallels to everyday experience (The wheel works just like a steering wheel on a car!). He offered positive comments and corrections as needed. He gave me space to lead the learning by asking questions when I didn’t understand.
He let me try on the responsibility for size. At one point he strolled forward to chat with passengers up front for a few moments – keeping an eye on things, but leaving me alone at the wheel.
He let me know I was doing well. When I offered to return the wheel, thinking I’d had my turn, he replied with a sports analogy, “Don’t take yourself out of the net till the coach asks you to leave. I’ll take over if you want, but you’re doing just fine.”
As my confidence grew (and perhaps his, too), the captain presented opportunities to try more complex tasks.
Daniel Pink, in his book ‘Drive’, describes mastery and autonomy as key drivers of intrinsic motivation. He suggests that tapping into those drivers is a way of getting people more engaged. I have no idea whether Captain Tim ever studied Pink’s principles, but I can tell you that he sure knew how to make this work.
ACTION: If you’re looking to shift the status of those you lead from ‘along for the ride’ to ‘engagement’, here are a few guidelines for tapping into intrinsic motivation:
- Watch for expressions and glimmers of interest.
- Offer access to opportunity and invitations to responsibility.
- Pick environments where it’s safe to practice.
- Provide instructions as needed – but don’t overwhelm. Let the learner take the lead.
- Be generous with your feedback. Express your confidence.
- Sit back and watch the smiles as others dive in and learn!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Life is like sailing. You can use any wind to go in any direction.” – Robert Brault
RESOURCE OF THE WEEK: Daniel Pink offers some very intriguing ideas on motivation in his book, ‘Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’. (Penguin Books – 2009.) Highly recommended.
READERS WRITE: In response to last week’s message, Take A Hike, Pause reader JN writes: You are so right about walking! I walk every morning before work for about 40 minutes in the nearby park along the creek. I used to say it was for the dog to get her exercise but I know that my mental health is probably benefiting more than her physical health. I realize it is like a meditative walk where I process some issues, give thanks for my many blessings, give praise for the beauty of the park and ask for guidance in the day. Most days along the way we stop to chat with someone while the dogs greet each other, talk about the weather or the local happenings. That 40 minutes refreshes my energy and prepares me for my pressure packed day.”
LAST CALL FOR UPCOMING SEMINAR: Here’s an upcoming opportunity to dive more deeply into issues of life balance. On Tuesday, November 9th, I will be delivering a Life Balance Leadership seminar here in Saskatoon. This program is offered through the University of Saskatchewan Business & Leadership Programs. We’d love to have you and your colleagues join us for the day. For program and registration details, check online.