After a long hiatus, I’m back with a guest blog from the lovely Lenita Dunlap. Ms. Dunlap is the executive director of Heart House, an after-school program in the Vickery Meadow area of Dallas, Texas. She is also a doctoral student in Public and Urban Administration at the University of Texas at Arlington. Most importantly, she is my wife and mother to my son.
As parents of an independent three-year-old, my husband and I had to figure out what would motivate our son for the significant milestone of going to the potty on his own. We knew he was capable. He’d demonstrated he had the knowledge of what to do and how to alert us; he had the ability to notify us and use the potty appropriately. He was ready, and yet he wouldn’t do it. Something held him back. A clean bottom should have been enough but it wasn’t.
As I studied my son, I realized that he likes chocolate. Correction: he loves all things chocolate. Struck by inspiration, I told him, “If you poop on the pot, mommy and daddy will give you chocolate.” Lo and behold, our son went to the pot on his own and did his business that very day. When we went to assist him, the first thing he asked is, “Where is my chocolate?” So yes, we found his motivation.
Leaders also have to discover what motivates staff. We often default to money or assume that a raise will do it, but is monetary compensation enough? You should pay your employees well, even if you work for or run a nonprofit. Passion for a mission is a great motivator but passion rarely sustains motivation; passion wanes and people get on your nerves. Position and title can often motivate. Employees like to know they’re progressing and that they play a significant role. Will that do the trick? I don’t know.
So what motivates? From my experience a true motivator understands the specific motivation of each person they lead. Yes, some value money, position and power, but what sustains most is the ability to be a part of something bigger than themselves. It’s aligning personal calling to the work they do, allowing a pathway to achieve greatness. It sounds dramatic, but it’s true: everyone wants to be significant. Even when they’re “just” working the accounting books, they want to matter. Folks need ownership. We need to understand why they’re passionate and tap into that passion to create something far better than you or they can imagine.
I remember attending a conference where a top executive of a beverage company shared that the best ideas for change came from within the company warehouse staff. The front line workers delivering the drinks understood best how to motivate themselves. Go figure.
At nonprofits we tend to focus so much on mission and forget about the people needed to carry out the mission. That same executive said they developed a culture where folks are invested, we need to do this more in nonprofits. So think about what motivates your team. Pay them fairly but more importantly invite them to the table and find their version of chocolate.