2010…the year of transitions. People were getting laid off, downsized, companies closed, The average workplace was about midway between the extremes of high threat and high opportunity. The personal stakes were relatively low but high on stress as people entered work everyday threatened that they might be leaving that day, week, or month without their job.

The threats are nothing like those imposed by a mugger or a sweatshop boss. But threats to livelihoods around the country nonetheless. People’s income spiraled downward as companies faced major economic disaster, just as families incomes dwindled. There is no way you can create survival strategies or techniques to weather the threat that hit our families as quickly as it did in 2010. Some employers used the economic distress as sufficient excuses to become the sweat bosses of old. It is difficult to sustain a very high level of motivation, even if you wanted to in that kind of environment. And you don’t. We all know motivation by stress and threats is a dead-end strategy, and we are naturally more attracted to the opportunity side of the motivation curve than the threat side.

Yet it is also an unfortunate truth that most supervisors make casual use of threats, forgetting that they do not have, or want, the coercive power to motivate by fear alone. Threats, of course, move people toward the survival side of the motivation curve, which moves them away from the opportunity side. So threats tend to move people away from the high motivation of genuine opportunities. Yet they generally fail to move them up the survival side of the motivation curve sufficiently to create high fear-based motivation. So threats are generally counterproductive. In fact, we can state as a general rule that, in any civilized workplace: Threats are always de-motivating.

Did you feel the threats in a misguided effort to motivate you as an employee in 2010? Threats are not nice, and you see yourself as a fundamentally nice person (and I bet you are right). Most managers say they never or rarely use threats, but many of the people I helped at the end of this year would not agree. They all felt threatened by the company, their bosses, and the workplace environment.

Most employees say their supervisors do hold threats over them on a routine basis. Most people feel that their bosses use their power to withhold opportunities and rewards and on occasion to actively punish and do harm. In my work, I’ve interviewed and surveyed thousands of my team and people in all sorts of organizations, big and small, and I’m willing to bet that you are convinced that you felt threatened or coerced into doing something you didn’t want to do all in one year…2010.

You need to “get out of your way” and “get our of their heads” and get one with your life. Understand how valuable you are so you can manage the impression you make on others. I mean don’t just take my word for it, Ken Blanchard, a wonderful trainer who says his goal is “to take the B.S. out of behavioral science,” often tells audiences that “motivation is a six inch job. It all comes down to the space between your ears.” Then he holds his hands up to his ears to demonstrate that it’s what people hear and what they think of it that matters. Anything outside the space between the ears is superfluous!

I help people work on rebuilding their economic future and build leaders. I’ve helped hundreds across the country…and I can help you too.


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