“You’re not listening to me…”
Have you ever heard anyone say this? I observed it being said to a group of children recently as the adult in question attempted to get them to clean up a mess they’d made. It didn’t work.
He raised his voice, “I’m not your mom, I shouldn’t have to ask you twice.” They got a little quieter, but a few were still whispering.
At that moment, I began contrasting this interaction with a cheesecake salesman I met in Carlsbad, California two weeks ago at a local farmers market. The people walking by on the sidewalk weren’t paying attention to him as they were engaged in their own conversations.
“Everyone gather round,” he said, “and try my mama’s cheesecake! Try whatever flavor you want.”
Some people came over, but some still stood at a distance. One person said “no, thanks.” His response was so good. He let this comment roll off his back as he said “That’s all right, I’m just here to serve.”
I watched as a crowd gathered, tried his cheesecake and bought some. This man smiled and interacted with the crowd as he asked their names, where they were from and how their days were going.
I was there with a friend who is a writer and entrepreneur. I turned to him and said “I want you to observe the leadership of this salesman. Notice how positive his focus is and how it has won over this crowd.” My friend agreed that this man was a living, breathing example of what a positive force a person can be who motivates people well.
These two stories illustrate what happens when a person chooses to motivate with a problem solving focus vs. a positive focus. In the chart below, notice the differences:
|Problem-Solving Process||Appreciative Process|
|What is going wrong?||What are we doing right?|
|Find the reason for failure||Find the reason for success|
|Fix what is broken||Amplify what is working|
|Focus on decay||Focus on life giving forces|
|Talk about weaknesses||Talk about strengths|
|Learning from our mistakes||Learning from what worked|
|Who is to blame?||Who is to affirm and learn from?|
Knowing this, how could the first man have have motivated the children differently? First off, he could have taken the positive, appreciative focus of the salesman saying “Kids, gather around. I’ve got something really important you need to hear.” Then he could have asked a question like, “look around, see which places at the table are clean. Whose places are those?” Then he could have asked what the cleaner kids did differently than the messier kids. In asking this he could have then invited input from the kids about what those children were doing well that they could also try.
I know it’s not always that easy because kids don’t always listen. But what if he’d tried the response of the salesman when they wouldn’t listen (“I’m here to serve”)? He could have stated why he was there, like the salesman, like this – “Kids, I’ve been entrusted to help you grow into responsible students. Think about the cleanest people you know. What do they do? Then he could have invited feedback and called them to the standard they needed to rise to.
But he didn’t do that. He focused on the negative and what wasn’t working. Guess what happened? A few kids got in trouble and the task never got done. Why? Wrong focus.
The greatest leaders are like that cheesecake salesman. They speak to the heart. They motivate with what they aspire to vs. what’s not working.
What kind of leader are you? If you want to motivate your team, use the chart above and ask yourself how you could incorporate the appreciative process into your next interaction. Doing this will put their focus in the right place and generate momentum toward fulfilling your important reason for existing.