I remember watching a comedian once tell a story about his toilet habits. Halfway through his story, he pondered out loud whether the story was a little risky because he didn’t know if everyone did the same thing or if he was the only one. This article is a bit like that because as I share my feelings with you, I have no idea if you also feel like this, or maybe, just maybe, I am the only one!

As a leader in my business, I am responsible for so many things: For the direction of the business, staff performance, and its financial success. In our game, the success of our business depends on how we make people feel in our venues so that they come in droves, have a great time, and protect our bottom lines. Now in front of my team, I stand and present the strategic plan, the company vision, and our budgets. I tell them the plan with confidence and fortitude and send them forth to plunder and deliver. I mentor, advise, adjust performance, and console. I try to ensure the team stays on the path to success. I scheme and re-scheme, manage and manipulate, always driving us on with long hours and a positive disposition.

At 3 a.m., when men of my age visit the toilet (darn biology), is when it starts. The brain for some reason starts pondering and for some reason at 3 a.m. it starts questioning every decision and moment of brilliance I had the day before. It ends with me wondering if one day people will wake up and realize I have been faking it for the last 20 years and perhaps I have no idea what I am actually doing. (Yes this is the risky bit because maybe I am the only one that feels that way!) The problem with 3 a.m. is, that by the time my mind finally switches off it’s 4:30 a.m. and I am only an hour-and-a-half from getting up. No wonder sleeping pills are some of the biggest sellers alongside anti-depressants. I can’t share my moments of doubt with my staff. That would startle them. The board chairman would wonder why he employed a nut job. Granted, my wife always tells me how wonderful I am. That is a good thing. Imagine what I would be like if she agreed with me! So in my deepest moments of doubt, who will motivate me? Who says I am doing OK? The answer, I have found, is quite simple. Moments of doubt are a good thing. Self-reflection and questioning yourself makes for better planning and decision making. It’s good to doubt yourself, check and revisit ideas, and work to make them better. Being vulnerable is OK. It is a good thing. Now all I have to do is deal with the 3 a.m. thing and perhaps do this self-reflection at a more suitable time.

This leads me to two questions: What do great leaders do to assist with decision making and what really motivates people?

Growing up in South Africa, I often look to Nelson Mandela and his leadership style for inspiration. One thing he was brilliant at was anticipating change.

Where are you looking to anticipate change, what are you reading, who are you meeting with, and what are you watching?

One of the big bugbears of mine is the “I” in IAVM. I always say on the stadium committee that I put the “I” in the IAVM. We need diversity in our thinking and to learn from others. I love watching the YouTube videos that show homeless people being the most generous. I love coming to the U.S., because you do events so well. Perhaps, we could learn from other countries and cultures some vital lessons as well?

What is the measure of your diversity network? Remind me one day to tell you the story of the factory sweeper Enoch who saved a company $10 million, and it could have been more if someone had just asked him earlier.

One of the most frequent questions I get from staff is, “What would you do? You have done this for 20 years.” I generally know what I would do, I would do what I have always done and which has worked. Of course, as a mentor, I seldom give them the answer but rather just question them until they get to the answer I know works and then let them think they have had a moment of brilliance. Am I always right? Do I have the courage to relook at the standard answer that delivers the standard result, or am I prepared to abandon my past and look for new and better solutions?

Are you courageous enough to abandon your past?

The graphic below demonstrates how business has evolved over a very short period of time. In order for us to keep up with this evolution, we too need to explore new ideas.


So who motivates the motivator? Studies show 75 percent of motivation comes from within.

Many people think they are motivated by financial reward but this is often not true. In fact, studies by Princeton, Harvard, and the London School of Economics tell us that only mechanical tasks are performed better if there is a financial incentive and that cognitive tasks are actually performed worse if financial incentives are offered. Ask Wall Street what happens when money is the only motivator. Ask them and the rest of those who suffered through the global financial crisis. So what does motivate?

Ever heard of the candle test? Or as they say in social sciences, the functional fixedness test?

It’s simple and has been around since about 1945 when Karl Duncker used it to test thinking. He provided subjects with a box of tacks, matches, and a candle with the instruction to fix the candle to the wall, light it, and ensure there is no dripping wax on the table. They carried out the timed test with various groups, both rich and poor. They found that the higher the financial incentive they offered the subjects to complete the task in a timely manner, the worse the subjects performed.


Most people tried melting the candle and sticking it to the wall or using the tacks to affix the candle to the wall. The answer, of course, in breaking functional fixedness is below:


Most people just see the box as holding the tacks and not as part of the solution. The advent of money puts people into a “greed mode” rather than a “creative solution mode.” I am not saying don’t pay people, but I am saying financial incentives don’t necessarily mean better results.

So what does motivate people?

  1. Autonomy—the trust to be given a task and then allowed to perform it, and given the space to show your talents and deliver.
  2. Mastery—instead of offering bonuses offer the opportunity to master a subject and learn more about it. I met a young venue manager, actually a member of our committee, and when I toured his venue with him and his manager, his manager showed us the operations room, which was this venue manager’s “baby.” His manager said, “I will let him explain it to you because he drove this project.” Never have I seen more passion, motivation, and knowledge flow from a young manager who had obviously been given autonomy to drive a project and deliver something that he had mastered.
  3. Purpose—you really need to understand the “why.” We often know what we do and how we do it, but do we know why? When you understand the “why,” everything changes and you have a purpose.

Anyway, better get off to sleep, this typing is irritating my wife and if I want to lead tomorrow, I should stop. Of course, the answer to who motivates the motivator is, you do. FM

(Image: EightBitTony/Creative Commons)