One of my more intellectually interesting and inquisitive friends recently asked me an interesting question: What is the most potent driving force for spurring productivity? It was a question that I had not previously considered. As I now reflect, it seems that personal productivity can be driven by a) pressure or b) passion.
Although MindSet frequently points out that high anxiety is the foe of learning and comprehension, moderate levels of anxiety can be the launching pad for high productivity. I have often noticed that outstanding executives operate with just a tinge of fear bubbling right under the surface – a fear that they will make a mistake that will have harmful implications for many others. This lingering unease is not a particularly pleasant emotion to live with, but it serves to make that executive compulsive enough to check (and double-check) that both the big things, and the small things, are right.
This motivation by pressure/anxiety reminds me of good advice I received before starting in graduate school. Worried about how I would stack up with respect to ability, a wise mentor told me that I would have no control as to how I would match up with respect to brain power vis-à-vis other students in the program, but I would always have the option to outwork them. That remains good advice whether you are coaching a football team or managing the sales staff for a struggling company. Talent you can’t always dictate; effort you can always control.
It is much more pleasant when productivity can be motivated by passion, and leaders should strive to have employees spend a high percentage of their time doing things the employee finds to be interesting and worthwhile. This is also why good leaders should constantly connect the dots for employees to see the link between what might appear a menial task on the surface to the more grand success of the business. I remember years ago sharing the news of a multimillion dollar donation to QLI with the members of the maintenance crew. I wanted them to know that the gift was made in large part because the donor had been so impressed with the condition of the facilities. That sort of explicit linkage helps to emphasize the importance of the role, and bring both a sense of pride and passion to an employee’s everyday work.
Passion also induces quality. A passionate wood worker, cook, or graphic artist will want perfection in the final product - close enough just won’t do. In good part I have found the following to be true: The world of high achievement belongs to the passionate.
So what’s the implication? If your personal productivity is lagging, it may well be due to a lack of pressure or a lack of passion for the tasks in front of you. We can sometimes structure things to put pressure on ourselves, e.g., combine commitments with significant negative consequences for failure to perform by a stipulated deadline. The resulting pressure is often enough to get one’s behind in gear.
The other option to spur productivity is to tackle a project or goal that captures your imagination. You don’t have to be particularly knowledgeable or great at it at the start – if you’re passionate enough about the goal, it’s amazing how much skill and/or expertise you can acquire in just three months of focused attention to a new skill or objective.
Perhaps you work in HR – and deep down you remember that you were once truly passionate about helping people find more success in their life. Go pick up a short book called The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly. For just 90 minutes, find a quiet spot and read it. Then spend time with a few employees exploring their dreams. Find out what they would be excited to achieve, do, or experience – and then spend time making that happen. It is likely that you will enjoy the process and see an uptick in your productivity.