SKIVE – The Unsurprising Truth About What De-motivates Us

Ambition is a poor excuse for not having sense enough to be lazy.
Milan Kundera
I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.
Bill Gates

Leadership is not about rank or privilege, but a responsibility towards people. It is an understandable desire of the newly minted manager to want to erect an edifice in his own image but we should resist the temptation to lean in with process and structure, throwing up roadblocks for our people to contend with. The first action of leadership should be to step back and observe. Secondly, to form authentic, non-obvious and revealing insights and to then form ideas from those insights. In doing so, we also need to recognise that one of the most significant barriers to the execution of ideas is ourselves and therefore remember to stay out of the way as much as we reasonably can.

Whether your product is widgets or ideas, that product is only acheivable by and through people. We’ve started to advertise roles where a desirable attribute is described as the ability to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity. I’d have to take a long hard think before joining any organisation where opacity is so ingrained that it needs to recruit for the status quo. A good leader will lead people, and communicate, with clarity. Without clarity people have a tendency to drift or in extreme cases to skive, slack or bunk off. The poor manager will see this as laziness and address the symptoms rather than the underlying ailment. If an interviewer asks you how you deal with ambiguity and uncertainty, I’d suggest asking them why that situation exists and what the business is doing to address it.

Drucker identified the following twelve de-motivating factors in business (and its no surprise that ambiguity features in the list):

A culture where internal politiking is seen as the way to get ahead
Promoting destructive internal competition
Changing the rules in the middle of a project
Opaque expectations of employee performance and results
Unnecessary rules and bureaucracy
Over-managing at the expense of autonomy
Failing to share information needed to perform roles
Unproductive and unneccessary meetings
Emphasis on criticism and negativity
Continued tolerance of poor performance
Unfair favouritism
Underestimating or under-utilizing capabilities

We can see that all twelve are directly people-related. There are no problems in business (excepting natural disasters) that are not people-related. We might blame technology for our woes but that technology was conceived of, designed, specified and implemented by people. It is used by people. When it does not perform it is because of a human failing, not a technological one. Projects do not fail through poor process. They fail because people used the wrong process or did not follow the right process. Or they failed to communicate effectively. New products flop because they aren’t what people want or need and it’s people who called it incorrectly. Algorithms are written by people. They might be executed by computers but when an automated process falls flat, “the computer says no”, it’s a person problem. “Change management” is a useful abstract phrase because it gets people at arms length and becomes about process. You can’t motivate people to come on the journey with you through a Gantt chart.

People are de-motivated by other people. As leaders it’s all about knocking over barriers. Decommission your mood-hoovers. Cancel that meeting. Communicate in plain, understandable language. Set clear expectations and then stay the hell out of the way.



  1. Reblogged this on 101 Half Connected Things and commented:
    Loved this piece by @SimonHeath1. Brief and brilliant.

  2. Great post! I’ll only add one caveat to the de-motivating factor “Unproductive and unnecessary meetings.” We’ve recently been undergoing a sustained period of change here in my firm, and everyone is feeling overtaxed and stressed in a very challenging transitional working environment. The natural instinct is to hunker down and close off from others in order to get one’s own work done. However, while we do need blocks of highly productive time to meet our individual demands, we also need to find ways to make sure we are keeping everyone on the team abreast of rapid changes and rebuild our wounded culture. It’s important to come together regularly and spend some time sharing and rebuilding trust. For some, any time spent in “chit-chat” is “unproductive and unnecessary” – but I believe it is important to purposefully make space to commune with one another in order to build a working community.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Chris. I couldn’t agree more with the need to come together periodically for a constructive, clear and concise sharing of news, views and reviews.

  3. I love this Simon. One of those posts you read and say “I wish I had written that.” Your first sentence says everything about leadership and your last is what we should all be aspiring to.

    1. You are very kind Richard. Thanks so much. It’s remarkable how simple and elegant principles of leadership really are underneath all the psychobabble, mumbo jumbo, BS etc

  4. This is fabulous Simon, I love it! And so timely….you’ve helped shape my thinking on something I’ve been wrestling with today. Thank you.

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