Inspiration – Or Just Cliché?Posted: August 9, 2012
I get it, Wayne Gretzky – you miss 100% of the shots you never take.
I get it, Michael Jordan – play to win and don’t let anything get in the way of your competitive enthusiasm to win.
I get it, Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something.*
I sat in my Monday morning meeting as the unassuming intern and listened to the Market Vice President try to light a fire under a group of underachieving sales reps. Many of whom fought back, or at the very least, rolled their eyes and shied away. And he noticed.
I couldn’t help but understand why they rolled their eyes, though. I’m a huge sports fan, don’t get me wrong; but I have to wonder whether these motivational clichés – many of which stem from famous athletes and coaches – are the best way to drive action and success. This wasn’t the first time, either. I’ve noticed, ironically at my first job outside of the sports realm, that management loves sports metaphors and motivational clichés.
Sure, they make your point. But hearing the same thing over and over again – from your little league coach, or your high school math teacher, your parents, and now from your boss? I don’t know how effective that is. There is certainly a way to eloquently state your point, in your own words, and motivate your employees. Whether that means personal anecdotes, or just a good old-fashioned well-thought-out speech, I think it’s important that it’s unique. Of course they’re going to tune out or roll their eyes when they’ve heard it before.
Why else might they tune out? Because it doesn’t apply to them.
Shocking, I know, but not everyone is a sports fan.
In Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series of spy novels, one of my favorite things is the interaction between the Israelis, Brits, and Americans. The Americans, specifically deputy director of the CIA, Adrian Carter, love their sports analogies. And Gabriel and the Memuneh? They don’t get it. Even if they do get it, they see no reason to drag sports into their conversations of international intrigue. It doesn’t apply.
I’m not saying these metaphors and inspirational quotes don’t have their time and place – because they very well might. I am saying, however, that it shouldn’t come as a shock when they aren’t as well-recepted as you may have planned.
They may not be effective in your particular setting, and that’s ok. There are other ways to motivate a group of people that don’t revolve around America’s pastimes. And our proven leaders, in whatever field that may be, should recognize that.
*Yes, I know the Malcolm Gladwell quote doesn’t only apply to sports. However, in the context of this meeting, it was applied to athletes, and athletes only.