August 21, 2012

Topic: Management & Leadership

Someone to chase

Last Saturday I headed out for my bike ride, unmotivated and a little bit sore after testing for the In Business Fittest Executive competition the previous day. I wasn’t up for the challenge of my normal hilly ride, so I intentionally started on a flatter route. As I headed out of town on Seminole Highway, a young woman about my daughter’s age passed me, and friendly as can be said, “Have a nice ride!”

As she easily blew by me, my competitive drive kicked in and I wondered if I could keep up. She pulled away for a while, but I stepped it up and the gap steadied. A few miles later, I got lucky as she was stalled a little longer than I was at a couple of stop signs and turns, and eventually I closed the gap and caught up with her.

We rode together and chatted for a while. I told her I write a business-related blog and her passing me gave me an idea for my next topic. Eventually I needed to turn back while she was continuing on, as she was training for the upcoming Ironman race. As I turned around, I noticed how great I was feeling, which was surprising considering the mental and physical condition I was in when I started my ride. I guess all I really needed was some motivation, some inspiration, and someone to chase.

Of course, I can’t help but relate this to business. Often, when we do the same thing for quite some time, we get complacent in our work. We lose steam, become unmotivated and maybe even disengaged. Sometimes we recognize our lack of focus and proactively try to motivate ourselves. We read the latest books, seek training or attend a conference, find or connect with a mentor, or identify someone to emulate. We may also set goals, and create an internal competition within ourselves to become better. Other times, the motivation comes from an external source and can come unexpectedly, as it did for me on Seminole Highway this past Saturday. Even if you are not actively looking for a motivator, you have to be open and ready to take advantage of an opportunity if one springs up.

Motivation is a key driver to being successful, but having inspiration is even better. Frequently, the inspiration can come from a mentor or manager who motivates you to try harder, do something different, and put in more effort than you thought you could. They see the potential in you, and inspire you to be the best “fill in the blank” that you can be.

Inspiration is all around us. Most recently we saw this on a global scale during the Olympic Games as we heard numerous stories about athletes overcoming huge obstacles and working incredibly hard to make it to the most important athletic competition in the world. It is hard not to be inspired by the determination, hard work, and spirit of those athletes as they realized their dreams. Just think how successful we would be in business if we trained like an Olympic athlete – giving our all into being an expert in our position, field, or industry.

Often, though, our own motivation and inspiration actually come from aspiration and wanting to be “like” someone. It can be someone we know personally, or a person we have heard of or read about. For example, I have seen this play out several times when we have hired new, high-performing employees. Members of the existing team may at first be threatened by the new person, because they shake things up. But as the new person builds momentum, and starts performing and producing results, others take their game to the next level and start increasing their performance as well.

In this sense, the new employee becomes the motivator and inspiration for a team that may be complacent and coasting a bit. Aspiration is something that many community and professional associations strive to foster in their groups as well. For example, a colleague of mine was telling me about her involvement in TEMPO Madison, which provides a forum for female leaders in the community to engage with, learn from, support, and inspire one another. Identifying someone you aspire to be like can sometimes be the best motivation for our own development and success.

As the biker and I went our separate ways that day, she thanked me for the spin. I too thanked her for the ride, and added, “and thanks for the blog idea.” As I neared home, I checked my average speed and was surprised to see it was one of my faster rides of the year. I guess I just needed someone to chase.


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