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Coro Fellows

As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these 12 Southern California fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

The Kindergarten lesson

My fourth week into teaching, I asked a student to answer a question. He knew the answer, but he inquired as to what he would get for responding. A raffle ticket, perhaps? A pencil? A phone call home? His comment utterly deflated me; I had created a child who would only respond when given something.

As a former teacher, I experimented with dozens of these types of external motivators: raffle tickets, point systems, stickers, prizes, choice time, and the like. I also tried dozens of punitive measures: yelling, time out, name on the board, parent letters, etc. As I gained experience, however, I came to realize that these rewards and consequences became short-term, piecemeal solutions and unkept promises: How could I consistently and fairly monitor points and tickets and check marks while I was educating a classroom of 28?

Ultimately, I eliminated these external motivators and substituted them with internal inspiration. I focused my time, energy, and money on securing guest speakers, teaching my students about college attendance statistics, and organizing field trips. I developed clear, consistent expectations that students were responsible for meeting, and I incessantly highlighted positive progress. When expectations were not met, I asked questions and organized support meetings with parents and administrators. My students worked harder and achieved better results.

Organizational leaders can take lessons from the classroom. In a time when external rewards, like bonuses, may be in short supply, internal motivation will be key. Perhaps leaders could move toward explicit, time-bound goal setting and publicly recognize those who achieve. They could offer employees a say in their work schedules or time off. Award ceremonies could be all the rage. Additionally, leaders might approach poor performers with offers of support and encouragement rather than punishment or sanction.

That good feeling inside you have when someone says "You're great" doesn't stop after age twelve, and though it might not completely substitute a $10,000 bonus, in difficult times it might do wonders.--Sean Holiday

A little dignity, please

Human nature longs for significance. The most successful leaders in the coming year, across sectors, will honor not just the bottom line but the men and women responsible for keeping the organization afloat.

In the reactionary scramble to sustain organizations, upper-level management has adopted a "cut-the-fluff" mentality. When the "fluff" equals inflated CEO bonuses and discretionary spending loopholes, great. When people and jobs are slashed from the budget with just as much ease, those on top will face problems far greater than their strictly financial woes.

Unfortunately, staffing cuts appear to be unavoidable in our economy. Call them buyouts, layoffs, hiring freezes or early-retirement deals and we are left with the same reality: more individuals enter the unemployment line as the remaining workers shoulder greater loads.

Still, a prudent executive decision can quickly become a self-dug grave. When layoff announcements are pawned off to HR departments while decision makers cower in their corner offices, loyalty is lost.

Monica Lozano, publisher and CEO of the Spanish-Language newspaper La Opinión, faces the same troubles as print-media outlets around the country. Lozano chose to be proactive, standing before her entire staff and explaining La Opinión's financial situation and that for some workers, this meant layoffs. With that public discussion, she eliminated the space for heightened anxiety caused by morale-draining rumors.

Lozano continually incorporates her employees into the decision-making process. She treats her employees with dignity and recognizes their value. When troubles ease and budgets increase, I believe Lozano will find that loyalty goes a long way. For other executives, an economic recovery might instead surface their real problems--the ones they caused in the pursuit of profit alone.--Emily Sage Sipchen

Lead in love

When organizations undergo cuts and the resource pool dries up, leaders need to tap into what is at the heart of their employees and themselves: the passion and love that got them there. Leaders therefore should, as Warren Bennis recommends, "express themselves fully." John Hope Bryant in his book Love Leadership exclaims, "Love not only has a place in business but also is absolutely central to sustainable success."

Just 10 years ago, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in L.A. had over 100 employees. Today, that number has dwindled to a few dozen, with each employee doing a little bit of everything. Even the VP makes his own copies and staples his own papers.

In the non-profit community, the personnel at the Autry National Center, with limited resources, are actively finding creative ways to move forward. While in media, layoffs and budget concerns have employees at Univision in L.A. redistributing responsibilities and reshaping community relations with a revamped Community Affairs Division.

The question then becomes, how do these organizations stay motivated amidst all these adjustments and changes in a down economy? The answer is simple: they are willing to tough it out because they love what they do and it begins with the leadership's passion and love for the organization.

Alberto Alvarado, L.A District Director of the SBA, rose within the ranks of the organization while John Gray, CEO of the Autry, continues to advocate for the convergence of cultures at the museum and in the community. Maelia Macin, General Manager of Univision L.A. has conveyed that to their audience: Univision is family and for a reason. These leaders have instilled a love and passion into the organizations that are catalysts for others to pursue what they love within the organization as well.--Clayton Rosa

Cultivating self-motivation

The best leaders will inspire workers by cultivating self-motivation. Reminding employees of the larger picture, exerting enthusiasm, and steering away from micromanagement can do this. I say this based upon a past experience with a leader who was able to make my position within the facilities department of a university extremely exciting.

This boss was successful because he was able to connect each individual's work to the larger picture. I was doing more than just entering data and creating graphs. I was providing vital images for his report to the board of trustees--a report that outlined the vision of the university for years to come. By seeing how my work contributed to the larger good, I found new adventure in a data entry task that could have just as easily been extremely boring.

In addition to showing that their employees' work is valued, successful leaders must clearly articulate their passions and inspire this devotion in their employees. My boss appeared excited to come to work each morning because he truly believed in what he was doing. His enthusiasm was contagious, and I soon found myself just as passionate about eliminating asbestos and installing low-flush toilets.

Those employees who have survived constant cuts are hopefully there because they are the best at what they do. Good leaders will remind these employees and themselves of this by taking a step back and trusting each to do his or her job. This same boss never told me how he wanted the graphs or reports to look. He trusted that I would do my best and gave me the freedom to explore what that meant. I found that I worked harder because with his trust and vision came greater self-motivation.--Kelly LaMar

By Coro Fellows

 |  January 5, 2010; 6:20 AM ET
Category:  Economic crisis Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Here's the problem:

We have internalized these external motivations so completely that we can no longer tap into what motivates us internally. It's pervasive. Talk to any one of those little sticky-fingered, cookie monsters at an elementary school and they'll tell you they want to be a millionaire or actress or other socially useless profession. They've been instilled to value money, recognition, and other external rewards.

We adults, for all our sophistication, are no different. We've traded in fruit roll-ups for much sweeter bonuses and time-outs for extended vacations. Our schools are mills that feed into a greater political/economic system that thrives on external motivators. If people didn't "want stuff", we'd all be out of jobs anyway.


Posted by: Thunderkats09 | January 6, 2010 5:58 PM
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Sean, I'm not sure I see your connection between the classroom and the workplace. If time-bound goals and clear expectations eliminated a need for external motivators in the classroom, how do awards ceremonies and flexible work schedules mirror this shift? How are flexible work schedules and awards ceremonies NOT external motivators? According to your argument, setting realistic, attainable goals should be motivators in and of themselves. Public recognition shouldn't matter.

Posted by: neetaso | January 6, 2010 5:18 PM
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While the details in each situation may vary, the strategies used here ring true with me. As a manager of a small group within a large entity, I have little control over hard decisions (payscales, bonuses, promotions) but I have substantial influence over the group work ethic and how everyone feels about putting in their best effort on any given day. It's not everything, but it's certainly not nothing, as our bottom lines shows.

Posted by: june3 | January 6, 2010 6:01 AM
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Don't forget the other lesson that Kindergarten teaches us. To take naps when we get too tired. Don't burn out, NAP.

Posted by: dogbear75 | January 5, 2010 9:13 PM
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Ok DRLOU1, I'll take a shot at you

1. You are confusing the paying of an individual a living wage to work (doing a job they are more than likely well motivated to do) i.e "the laborer is worthy of his wages" (St Paul) and the waving of a carrot in front of the face and stick behind the hindquarters of a "mule" that you believe is unwilling to otherwise work.

2. No study shows that performance based pay systems work (if by work, you mean produce a useful outcome). Several studies have shown that these systems are actually counter productive (read Deming and Kohn). Just look at how productive the rewards we gave those who ran our financial system into the ground. financial

Posted by: jamalmstrom | January 5, 2010 3:28 PM
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For a book-length treatment of the issue of problems with the use of extrinsic rewards, see Alfie Kohn's (1993/1999) Punished by Rewards.

Posted by: dpnichols | January 5, 2010 11:46 AM
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Ok...I'd suggest all those who detest 'external rewards' either offer to work for free or send their pay checks to their favorite charity. Or how about all those 'motivational' speaker and author types who earn large sums of $$$ by railing against the use of tangible reward systems (without actually understanding the related principles) turn back their earnings to their publishers or organizers. Not very likely, huh? And, by the way, offering employees time off for good production and work is, in fact, a VERY tangible and VERY external reward. I'd have to wonder if the author understands why time off is the exact same kind of reward as raffle ticket, an M & M, or, even, a paycheck.

You know, a child who truly refuses to work until given something is an example of poorly managed and badly understood use of instructional, reinforcement, and motivational strategies rather than their implication as somehow evil or ill intended. And the use of reinforcement and motivational systems, like other learning processes, should be graduated and shaped over time. It is important to move kids from more frequent use of tangible kinds of rewards to those social and community driven. But, again, that is a process and isn't any more likely without effort than teaching kids to move from learning their alphabet sounds to reading.

While bringing in speakers about college attendance statistics might be impressive uptown where the money is, the reality is that many kids won't find that very interesting, let alone motivating, and, quite frankly, I don't see many of those up town kids caring a large hoot overall either. An important reality is that such 'motivational' strategies are class oriented and indifferent to those kids - and there are very many - who are on different and just as respectable - personal and career trajectories.

So, before publishing yet another self serving tome about 'external rewards,' I might suggest taking a couple of college courses on the use of effective teaching strategies and classroom-based positive behavioral support systems. Of course, the publication generates still more external rewards than the joy of learning and communicating more accurately represented information, does it not?

Posted by: DrLou1 | January 5, 2010 11:39 AM
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Hear, hear! This idea of trivial "rewards" might start in kindergarten, but it follows through into high school. I think it reflects an even bigger problem in education and home training --young people are not taught to develop inner strength and resources that lead to building good character, work habits and self-control.

Posted by: sdl63 | January 5, 2010 9:10 AM
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Posted by: wwwjordans-cheapcom | January 5, 2010 8:29 AM
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Every parents should pay more attention to Kindergarten lesson for your little kids. www.jordans-cheap.com

Posted by: wwwjordans-cheapcom | January 5, 2010 8:27 AM
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