Throwing My Loop…
By: Michael Johnson
I hear it so often. “You can't motivate someone else,”
people say. “You can't open up someone's mind and pour in
desire. A person has to want to.” So many people believe
that statement to be true. Is it?
That belief system - that we can't motivate others - is
a seductive way to think. After all, we constantly hear
complaints from managers in industry that “workers don't
care anymore.” We hear teachers say, “Students are not like
we were.” And we hear a line from so many coaches... “I
don't know what's the matter with young people these days.
They're just not motivated.”
So if so many share that belief, it must be true...right?
Problem is I'm puzzled about that. I'm really confused.
If we can't motivate people, how and why does any team
involved in some sort of competition ever win? If you can't
motivate people, why doesn't everyone come in last?
Why is the word “upset” in the English language? (If
you can't “motivate” people, the favorite should always
win.) Why does one coach have a 70/30 lifetime winning
percentage, and another coach only a 20/80 lifetime record?
Did the first coach get “lucky” for his or her entire career
somehow always being mysteriously blessed only with kids who
Hmmm. Somehow I doubt “luck” is the answer. So what is? Why
do some managers, teachers, and coaches have more success
Maybe the answer has something to do with leadership?
Most of us tend to believe high performance stems from the
student. Of course that's true. But maybe high performance
also comes out more because of who our boss is and how he or
she acts, or because of our teacher and how he or she treats
us, or from our coach and how we are coached and taught by
Great and gifted “teachers” are rare (not just
classroom, but “teacher” meaning anyone who has a positive
impact on your life). True teachers have to work hard at
their craft. (People who say you can't motivate others are
through for the day.) True teachers get us to listen to
them. How on earth do you do that – get someone to listen?
When I returned to the world of roping at forty-five,
the first few people I asked for help focused on my age.
“Well, it's been a long time,” they would say. “At your age,
I wouldn't expect too much.” They focused on my limitations.
Some years later, I was blessed to find Kenneth Colson and
Bronc Fanning – both great ropers and more importantly, true
teachers. Rather than talking about what I couldn't do, they
said, “Let's get to work.” Neither ever offered false hope
or artificial flattery. Neither ever promised me something I
couldn't do. They weren't interested in that. They simply
began telling me how to improve. It became obvious to me
they believed I could. Which do you think I listened to
more? Those who thought I was too old or too lacking in
ability? Or those who thought I could?
And about that belief that you can't motivate someone
else – that we have to want to? When someone says that, I
always think of Lee Graves and Jessie. Lee Graves, steer
wrestler from Canada, wanted to buy Jessie. Several of his
friends counseled against such a move saying the horse just
“didn't have it.” But Lee believed in Jessie and bought him
anyway. “I knew that horse just needed to have his
confidence built,” he would later say – when Jessie was
named “Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year” in the PRCA.
So if “we have to want to,” as most people seem to
believe, then surely Jessie must have been standing out in
the pasture one day – and decided all on his own – to become
one of the greatest bull-dogging horses the world has ever
And I always think of Eliza Doolittle in Shaw's
Pygmalion. That young Cockney girl who, according to
Professor Henry Higgins, “crooned like a bilious pigeon.”
Eliza had no plans, no purpose or grand scheme. She didn't
want “it.” She didn't even know what “it” was. Her only goal
in life was to sell her flowers and stay away from her
drunken father. But when she hears Higgins tell his
associate, Col. Pickering something, her life begins to
change. Higgins points at Eliza and says, “I could pass you
off as the Queen of Sheba!”
And Eliza's soul opens its sleepy eyes – and she
becomes more than anyone dreamed.
Can you motivate another?
Sure you can. It's been done to me.
And to Eliza.
-- Michael Johnson
Sharon and Rowdy