I’m obsessed with it. That word I mean. How is it that
we do it? How do you motivate someone? There are those
that say you can’t. “Can’t motivate someone else,” they
say. I’ve heard those words so many times from corporate
managers. “Motivation is an internal thing. You must
decide on your own to do a thing.” So many coaches
believe that way, as do many teachers, and a host of
industry supervisors say, “You can’t make someone want
to.” Is that belief true?
In some ways, the argument is persuasive. If there were
a young person,
adult employee, or a horse leaning against a fence half
asleep, and someone said, “Okay, hotshot, go over that
and “motivate” that lazy dolt,” I certainly doubt that I
could. That person (or horse) would be diagnosed by
those who don’t believe we can motivate others as having
an “attitude problem.”
Once I asked a coach why our hometown team repeatedly
failed to win games.
“It’s these kids these days,” he said. “They just don’t
care. All they want to do is ride around in the cars
their parents buy them.”
“Do the other kids in surrounding towns that beat us
consistently ride around in their cars too?” I asked.
He thought for a moment and said, “Well…not as much as
our kids do.”
I can’t count the times and stories people have related
the sorry state of the world today to me. To hear some
tell it, kids don’t care, adults don’t know what work
is, and horses have been bred to be ill-tempered, hyper,
“thin-blooded,” and “over-the-top.” And if you accept
that belief system,
things look pretty bleak indeed.
However, I’m curious…
If it is true leaders, coaches and teachers cannot
motivate others, a number of questions come to my mind.
* How does any coach win?
If it’s true, we have a nation wide, all pervasive,
cultural “attitude” problem, how does any coach, male or
female, ever win?
Yet, somebody wins a district championship each year,
somebody wins regional, area, state semi-finals, makes
it to the final two, and somebody wins the final state
championship game or competition every year. In
football, basketball, baseball, golf, tennis, track,
volleyball, girls’ softball, 4-H, FFA, bands and choral
groups, and in academic competition…somebody wins every
year. How do they do that?
* How and why are people ever moved to do more?
If others cannot be motivated, how would we explain
great movements in history? If we cannot inspire others,
then something like this must have happened. One
morning, a French farmer must have looked at his wife
and said, “You know, Antoinette, I’ve decided to buy
some armor and a bow. I’ve made an internal decision to
follow a peasant girl who is only sixteen years old. She
can’t read or write, but she says we can be free.
It’s not what she said, it’s not her passion, it’s not
that she told me I could be part of something wonderful,
it’s just my decision. Thinking about this in the
pasture this morning while tending the cattle and sheep,
I’ve made a completely personal decision on my own to
follow Joan of Arc.”
How would we explain Marcus Aurelius, Martin Luther,
Churchill, Moses, and Mohammed? How would we explain
Some supervisors say they just can’t reach the people
working for them.
Ghandi reached a few. His task was to convince the
people of India not to submit to colonization by the
British. His people had given up, they had accepted and
submitted to foreign rule, yet Ghandi changed their
Ghandi motivated 300 million people. And how could we
explain the carpenter? If we cannot influence others,
how could Jesus do what he did,
and is still doing?
So, I’m sure it’s apparent by now I’m not in agreement
with those that believe others cannot be reached,
inspired, and motivated. And to be candid, if you are a
coach that believes others cannot be moved to greater
heights because of you, get out of the profession. You
don’t understand what you are for. If you are a teacher
who says, “I put the problems on the board, and if they
don’t get it, it’s not my fault,” you are in the wrong
business. You are missing the thing called joy. Helping
others get ‘it’ when they think they can’t is where joy
comes from. And if you are a horse trainer who thinks
they are dumb beasts, trust me partner…
it’s not the horse that’s stupid.
The reason I’m so sure we can motivate others is simply
because it’s been done to me countless times. Here is
one example of how we do it, and how not to do it…
Once, I had a boss. He was a big, good-natured, smart
man. On every single occasion that I entered his office,
he looked up, and a big smile broke over his face.
“HEY, MICHAEL!” he would shout. “How in the world are
What good things are you doing for us? Sit down and tell
me all about it!”
Whatever subject I presented, he listened intently. He
made me feel as if what I was saying was so important.
Not that he agreed with everything - and if he didn’t he
would be the first to tell me so - but he did listen. He
was genuinely appreciative of my efforts, and always had
me walking out of that office thinking I was on a
mission to save the world, and truly help our company,
and all our employees. I loved him, still love him, and
so did the other 8,000 people who worked for him. I did
good things for him because of his leadership. Hold that
That CEO moved on, and his replacement came. When I
walked in the new boss’s office, he would look up
suddenly, and when he recognized me…he would snort. Yep,
snort. He would then threw down his pen a bit too
quickly, and in a short bark, would say, “Yes, yes…what
“I can come back later,” I would say.
“No, no, you’ve already interrupted my train of thought,
so what is it?”
Whatever subject I presented, he would look to his right
or left, never at me. As I spoke, he studied whatever
was on his desk intently, and when I finished, his head
would immediately begin to move back and forth.
“Let me tell you why that won’t work,” he would say, or,
“Here is the problem with what you’re wanting to do.”
And my favorite, “What you don’t understand is…”
On every occasion I encountered this person, I left
feeling like a fool.
I was an annoying interruption to this very busy
I never did any thing good for this man. I never did a
damn thing for him.
I couldn’t stand him, and the other 8,000 people who
worked for him felt exactly the same way.
Later, he would tell my former boss, “I don’t see what
you see in Michael Johnson. He hasn’t produced anything
of value since I’ve been here. I just don’t see ‘it’ in
My former CEO, hero and friend thought for a moment, and
“Well, you either see ‘it’ in people, or you don’t.”
And that is what I’ve come to know. Not that I’m an
expert, and know all about how to do ‘it.” I’m a long
way from being that person. But now,
after thinking carefully about my own experiences, I can
remember coaches, teachers, and managers who helped me
soar to places I didn’t dream I could go. I remember
others in all those professions who left me feeling
worthless. I know which one I want to be.
Certainly, we should be mature enough to do our best,
and do a good job regardless of who is leading us, but
sadly, most of us are not that mature. I for one, am
certainly not. After all, I travel the country with a
guitar, rope and a stuffed horse puppet so we’re not
talking strong mental health here, nor have I ever
claimed to have such. But on some occasions,
I have been blessed to be in the loving arms of a good
teacher, the powerful influence of a good coach, and
work for superb men and women who loved me, encouraged
me, and thought I had value. Thank the Lord for them.
Without them, where would I be? Where would any of us
And if you think the same love, respect, and
encouragement doesn’t work with horses, trust me
partner…it ain’t the horse that’s stupid.
Without us, they cannot find their way.
Without them, we can’t find our own.
A Course in Miracles
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