Motivation in Motion

Leadership is not about position. Leadership is about a passion for making a difference.

Robin Sharma

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about motivation.  As leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that our teams are motivated and empowered to move forward to achieve both personal and organizational goals.  Great leaders work daily to keep their teams motivated and inspired.  But who inspires the leader?  How do leaders stay motivated enough to motivate others?

The truth is, all leaders get tired.  On occasion, my own motivation wanes and I just don’t feel inspirational today … or this week … or this month.  Continuously meeting the expectations of others both above and below on the organizational ladder can impact the expectations we have of ourselves.  As leaders, we often spend so much time inspiring others, we forget what inspires us.  These are the thoughts that led me to question the leader’s need for renewed motivation.

So I did what everybody does when they need an answer – I Googled it.  There are over 17,000 results for “how does a leader stay motivated?”  Apparently, I’m not the only leader who finds internal motivation to be challenging at times.  After reading a few articles (not all 17,000, I assure you), I noticed that a majority made the following suggestions: remember your “why,” ensure balance, and find a support system.  All of these suggestions had one thing in common; namely, increasing motivation requires a focus on others rather than self.

Motivation is an inward drive inspired by outward actions. 

When we take our eyes off ourselves and focus externally, we remember why we lead.  Remembering your values and purpose, considering others on the scales of the work-life balance, and accepting support from colleagues all provide an opportunity for leaders to re-focus eyes on a greater aim. Reflecting on motivation beyond the workplace provides the impetus for leaders to lean into leadership and fully move forward once again.   

Stuck in the Middle with You

I’ve written several times about leadership and all the places leaders have influence.  I believe leadership occurs at all levels – from entry level to the C-Suite.  Everyone has potential to be a leader.  To grow into greater roles, a person must manage their influence and use it to lead in whatever position they hold.   None of this is new news.  I’ve said it.  Others have said it.  We all know it. 

So why do we still get hung up on titles and why are we still dissatisfied in our current positions?  I wrote an entire dissertation on developing leadership skills in mid-level leaders.  If simple leadership at any level is enough, what’s the point and was all that work in vain?  Truth is – maybe it isn’t enough. 

As I walked across campus today headed to a meeting with others in similar middle level management positions, I was reminded of a recent conversation in which I lamented a lost leadership opportunity that did not come my way and my desire for greater roles.  Although my mind understood that leadership in my middle position was valuable my heart understood it wasn’t my fulfilled desire.  It struck me that my unrest might have something to do with the description “middle level.” 

Think about it; it’s the middle.  The middle is rarely used in a positive manner –in the middle between a rock and a hard place, stuck in the middle with you, in the middle of no where.  In most areas of popular culture, the middle doesn’t seem like the best place to be.  Most people in the middle are stuck there by chance and not choice; they are hungrily waiting for a chance to get out.  It’s hard to lead from a place you are trying to leave.

How do we make the best of it?  A couple months ago, I wrote about five things necessary to lead in the middle and move forward from that place.  One of those things was go the extra mile – over deliver.  This is extremely important to those in the middle – it’s also extremely difficult.  Middle leaders must seek opportunities to do strong, promotable work that benefits the organization in order to prove their value and heighten their impact.  But they must carry out their action in a manner that is not self-seeking or desiring recognition. Is this even possible?

Motivation is key.  This impacting work must benefit the organization and not exist solely for the benefit of the leader.  Work that is self-promoting and inconsiderate of organizational goals and mission is easily seen for its egocentric nature.  True leadership impact is best achieved through authentic leadership designed to move the team and organization forward and not simply benefit the leader.  Any leadership benefit becomes a byproduct rather than the original product.

My challenge to all of you Middle Leaders is this – check yourself, and check yourself often.  Find your WHY.  As Simon Sinek said,

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.  What you do simply proves what you believe.”

You were originally attracted to the heart of your organization, its mission.  Don’t forget it; instead, let it be your motivation and your impetus for continuing to give all of yourself.  Remember why you are there and why you care.  I cannot guarantee you will receive a promotion.  I cannot even say your work will be noticed. I can promise, however, that you will find renewed love for your work and purpose in whatever position you are in.

This One’s For You Grammy!

Recently, I’ve been thinking about my grandmother quite a bit. Esther Tune was an amazing lady. She was a single parent who outlived two husbands. She worked in the medical field, although I can’t really tell you what she did. I do know she spent a year serving on the hospital ship USS Hope in Jamaica. She traveled as often as she could – either by herself or with others. For most of my life, Esther – or Grammy as she was known to literally everyone – drove a bright orange Karmen Ghia with a big stuffed tiger sitting in the backseat. That’s who she was – a tiger, but a soft one. Grammy passed away several years ago, a month before her 102nd birthday.

When Grammy spoke, we all listened. Grammy was wise. Whatever she said was worth hearing. She wasn’t one to tell you what you wanted to hear, but she would certainly tell you what you needed to hear. Grammy believed in the people around her and, because of her, they believed in themselves. She knew how to motivate people toward success. I can’t wasn’t in her vocabulary.

But what does all this have to do with leadership? Grammy wasn’t college educated. She wasn’t a CEO or Manager of a multi-million dollar corporation. Yet, she was definitely the leader of our family. Grammy never led a corporation or a division or even a team. She led our family. And, we followed – willingly. We trusted this woman – her strength, her character, and her wisdom. Wherever she was going, we knew wanted to be there. The road might be rocky. But it would definitely be an adventure worth taking. And there would be growth at the end.

Good leaders know how to develop their followers into people beyond their own dreams. Grammy was authentic, inspirational, confident, and certainly visionary. These traits were passed along to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. None that knew her were ever the same.

Grammy was born into a different era. She never had a chance to go to college or get her doctorate. Nor will she ever see me receive mine. Her presence is here though – every day. She inspires the leader I will become. This one’s for you Grammy!


The Wall

I hit a wall. The Wall. The wall I didn’t think actually existed. Currently, I work full-time as an administrator in a teacher preparation program at a private university in Southern California. I am entering year two of my doctoral program, which means reading, writing, and reading some more. I also just began my first term as an Adjunct Professor, teaching Graduate level courses. I write a leadership blog and have a side business as a Notary Public Signing Agent,  Plus, I am a wife, mother, and Nana to five amazing grandchildren.  I’ve reached my capacity.  There isn’t anything left.

I’ve hit The Wall.

Technology allows us to work around the clock. We answer email at midnight, write reports in the early morning hours, and take conference calls in our pjs. The lines between work and life have merged so closely we can’t determine where one ends and the other begins. Creating work-life balance is not just a goal; it’s a necessity.  Experts agree that stress from the never-ending workday can damage relationships, health and overall happiness.1

Every person must determine their own method for balancing career and home.  The Wall will be different for every individual and every family.  These tips may help you find the balance that’s right for you.

  1. Unplug – It’s important to find time to unplug – move away from the phone and the computer. If you have a chance to eat a meal with your family, turn off your phone and eat. When watching your daughter’s soccer game, turn off your phone and cheer. When out on a date with your spouse or significant other, turn off your phone and engage. Relationships will always be more important than careers. Give your family the same attention you give your clients.
  2. Move Your Body – This is a message I need to give myself. We find ourselves locked in our offices and at our desks too many hours each day. Get up and move! If you can get to the gym, that’s great. If not, take a walk. Recently, my spouse and I have started taking short – very short – walks around the neighborhood after dinner. This allows time for us to reconnect, moves our muscles a little bit, and even allows us to get to know our neighbors better.
  3. Schedule Downtime – Sometimes it’s necessary to actually schedule time to relax. Schedule time each week to recharge and reconnect. Put it on your calendar and guard it as much as any other important appointment. Date night at your favorite restaurant, movie night at home, a massage, or just thirty minutes with a good book – put something on the schedule every week.

Every person’s wall is different. Understanding when you’ve reached your capacity is critical to achieving balance between home and career.  Protect your life from the sneak attacks trying to steal your work-life balance.

Guard the Wall



1 Deborah Jian Lee, Oct. 20, 2014, Tips for Better Work-Life Balance Forbes Magazine

I Can See Clearly Now

I am a woman of a certain age – an age that requires glasses for close work.  It’s interesting to realize you need a little assistance with something you’ve been doing quite well for years.  Humbling, yes.  Essential, also yes. Fortunately, I have accepted the fact that I’d rather see than not see and now own several pairs of very stylish eyewear.

The information about my eyesight is pertinent to another recent revelation.  I found that when I put on my glasses and look in the mirror, I am able to see my flaws much more clearly.  There they are – big as life itself.  Once I recovered from the shock of seeing myself much more clearly, I immediately thought, “how long has that been there?”  The imperfections I see so clearly may have been evident to others for quite some time.

As leaders, we can be blind to our leadership flaws because our eyesight has grown tired over the years.  We no longer see as sharply as we once had.  We can grow complacent within the daily routine.  We aren’t doing anything wrong, but we aren’t doing a lot of things right either.  We spend a little more time in our offices than we should.  Our conversations are a little less constructive than they once were.  And, most important, we haven’t invested the time developing those followers as we once did.  We aren’t seeing clearly.

Our leadership glasses sharpen our vision and bring the picture into focus. Look closely now.  You may see opportunities to…

  • Motivate your team to hang in there with a difficult project
  • Encourage a junior employee to step forward into leadership
  • Collaborate with others to find new ways to be innovative
  • Inspire your team to move from mediocrity to greatness

Put on your leadership glasses and take a closer look.  What do you see?

Reflections on Becoming Dr. Karavedas – No. 4

I’ve been a little slow to post this latest reflection. Honestly, I’ve been a little slow to write this latest reflection. I have only one explanation for this … no time! The last few weeks have been filled with a mini research project involving interviews, observations, data collecting, data coding, themes, codes, modes, nodes and more. AND I HAVE LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT!!

For the first time since I began this journey nearly a year ago, I feel the tug and pull of the research itself. Finding oneself lost in the data and trying to determine its meaning is a beautiful place to be. Getting lost in the process of discovery feels amazing. The funny thing is – this isn’t even my dissertation topic.

This is the space where my heart meets my head.

Beginning research has energized me, and I desperately needed to be energized.  When you reach the space in a project where you have to tell yourself to stop working and go to bed, you know you’ve found your flow. For some of you, this is crafting or woodwork. For others, it’s working out or an athletic endeavor. For me, I think it might be research. So far anyway, it fits well. I think I’ll keep it.

Reflections on Becoming Dr. Karavedas – No. 3

It’s been a tough couple of weeks. I’m just beginning Summer Session, which means I’ve been on this journey for 32 weeks, without a break. I hate to admit, but I’m a little tired – tired of webinars, tired of cohort meetings, tired of homework – just tired. Bigger than that, I’m tired of being “a doctoral student” and anxious to be a Doctor.

Over the last two weeks, several promotions have been announced at work – none to me. To be honest, it’s been difficult to watch. I love my colleagues and am truly happy for them, but it’s difficult knowing that my efforts, experience and expertise cannot be rewarded because I’m missing a few letters behind my name. (Yes, I’ve been told this).   It’s a little disheartening.

I sincerely value the lessons I’m learning along this doctoral journey. Over the last two weeks, however, I’ve struggled with wanting to move forward quickly. This is an experience that shouldn’t be rushed. In fact, most programs won’t allow you to rush. The journey is just as important critical to the outcome.

It’s more important to become Dr. Karavedas, than to be Dr. Karavedas.

Transformation takes place on the inside and the outside. My motivation cannot be focused solely on the rewards available once I have more letters behind my name. Fortunately, someone I respect reminded me of this. She encouraged me to fully engage in all aspects of this journey and benefit from this process. Embrace the changes occurring to my personal and professional growth.

I’m nearly at the halfway point. In a few weeks, I’ll be selecting a Dissertation Chair. This time next year, I will advance to candidacy – becoming a Doctoral Candidate, and no longer a Doctoral Student. It’s a journey that is both very long and very short. But, I’m walking in it … one step at a time.

Leadership, Motivation and Candy Crush!

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation. How can I motivate others? (I can’t). Where does motivation develop? (Inside). Is there a difference between motivation and inspiration? (Yes, definitely). The strange thing about motivation is you must be motivated to get motivated.

Getting started is the most difficult part of motivation. Once you begin the journey, motivation grows with each step. The most important step is the first one. A person cannot move anywhere without taking that first step. But, that first step is the most risky. Motivation asks us to begin the journey without knowing where it will end. We must remember, however, that the journey is the ultimate success. Success arrives at many different points along the path – not just at the end.

These great moments of wisdom occurred during the stimulating brain activity that is Candy Crush. Yes, the game. I may have a bit of an addiction.  A confusing addition, I admit. Why do I continue to play a game that regularly tells me I’ve failed to achieve the goal? As a leader and career coach, I understand this is not the usual method for encouraging a person. I’ve asked myself – what motivates me to try to reach the next level? There is no prize, no great gain. In fact, completing one level only leads to another, typically more difficult, level. Yet, I continue to try.  Why?

My motivation for Candy Crush is derived from inside. A desire to prove I can accomplish the goal. Even though Candy Crush reminds me I’ve failed, I know the goal is achievable. I have the skills to be successful.  The goal is just far enough out of reach to make me desire to try a little more.

This is motivation – the knowledge that I have the ability and skill to successfully accomplish the goal.

Motivation best occurs when the skill required is just a small stretch from what is already possessed by the individual. It is unlikely a pee wee baseball player would be highly motivated to play against a major league All Star – or vice versa. If a goal is too easy, a person becomes bored. Too difficult, they may stop trying.

Continue reading “Leadership, Motivation and Candy Crush!”