The Organizer #1 | Leadership

How do I stay motivated? We expect leaders to have a never-ending supply of motivation. Reality is more complicated than that.

Hey leaders: Plan to get lost this year

Motivation is the willingness to act. It’s the energy that propels you from thought (“I should do this”) to action (“I am doing this”).

Pop culture would have you believe that leaders are constantly motivated. They are inspiration machines, driven by unwavering vision and energy.

Pop culture lies.

Sure, some days you leap out of bed with motivation filling your heart. Other days, the energy just isn’t there. You look for it. You wish for it. But you don’t feel it.

This doesn’t mean you aren’t a “real” leader. It means you are a human being.

The truth is, motivation comes and goes.

New year, new plans

The new year is usually a time we make or launch new plans. You may even be drowning in them: strategic plans, financial plans, workplans, communications plans, fundraising plans, campaign plans, career plans ….

Here’s a question for you. When you are creating plans to organize and inspire, do you also make a plan to motivate yourself? Do you identify and allocate the resources you will need to show up?

Or do your plans assume you will be the “perfect” leader, a machine with unrelenting energy and motivation?

The problem with leader-as-machine myth (and maybe the problem with your plan) is that it ignores nature. Ebb and flow are natural. Uniformity is not.

People are afraid to talk about motivation waxing and waning in the social impact world. You don’t want your team to know, or your donors, or your constituents. You definitely don’t want your opponents to know.

Yet we have all asked (or heard a friend ask) questions like this:

> How do I stay motivated when I am exhausted?
> How do I stay motivated when I can’t find the right people to help?
> How do I stay motivated when I don’t have enough funding to do my work?
> How do I stay motivated when I’m not 100% sure what I’m supposed to be doing?
> How do I stay motivated in the middle of a global pandemic?
> How do I stay motivated when I confront environmental devastation or violence every day?

The answer is … You don’t.

You don’t stay motivated.

You get motivated.

Then motivation fades.

Then you get motivated.

Then it fades.

Then you get it again. Then you lose it again. Then you get it again. Over and over and over. Forever.

If you are trying to stay motivated, you are setting yourself up for failure. You will notice all the times when you don’t feel motivated, all the times when the work seems hard. You will believe it’s a problem when the work doesn’t come easy or your energy wanes.

You need a different plan, one that welcomes the difficult moments.

Welcome to the dark scary forest of leadership

First, accept that motivation comes and goes. Assume that you’re flappable. Assume that there will be moments when you need a little boost.

Then, do what all heroes do whilst wending their way through dark and scary forests: leave yourself some breadcrumbs.

Don’t wait until you feel lost. Do it when you feel connected to your work.

Do it now.

“Accio motivation!”

First, ask yourself this: “Why do I do what I do?”

Don’t think about your organization’s purpose or a mission statement or some official answer to this question. Don’t think about your job title or what you are supposed to say.

Be honest and be personal.

What does your cause mean to you? What are you trying to protect? Who are you trying to assist? What matters to you?

Or, think about people who inspire you: What person or speaker or idea motivates you? What quote makes you want to act? What place fills you with awe? Who do you want to be proud of you?

Notice what comes to mind.

Now, pick one word that captures your thought. (If one word is impossible, try a short phrase or even an image).

Create a digital sticky note

Write down your word, describe your mental image, or paste an actual photo into the note.

Leave the sticky on your computer desktop. (It should save automatically.)

Look at it first thing in the morning.

Peek at it before your next eternal Zoom call.

Dwell on it after a difficult conversation or setback.

Your sticky note is your tether. It’s a line that can snap you back to your core or propel you forward, whichever you need.

This is your plan (perhaps the simplest plan you’ll write all year). It’s a reminder that lulls are normal. And it’s a reason to reconnect with something that matters to you.

Ignore what pop culture tells you. This is what leaders do.

Leaders remember

Leaders remember why they do what they do. They remember the plan. They remember what matters. They remember that, even in the darkest, deepest forest, there is always a way forward.

Then they forget.

Then they remember again.

This is natural. This is balance. This is the plan.

You’ve got this.

How to create stickies

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