How to motivate people

sarah asks: Dear Shirelle, my friend needs help with motivating lazy people to do their jobs. He holds the position of command sergeant major in JROTC. He basically needs advice on motivation, getting people to listen to him and also to plan how to take charge of a company.

Hi sarah –


I feel a little funny answering this, given the nature of ROTC and JROTC.  For those of you who don’t know, ROTC stands for Reserve Officers Training Corps.  It’s a program in the US Army where people train to be officers.  (JROTC is the Junior version of it, for younger people)

My problem is that armies around the world have been doing a very good job of motivating people for centuries and more!  And I would think that part of training an army officer would be teaching them how to get people to do what you want them to do.  So I’m not sure how much a dog’s advice is worth, when compared to what they teach there.  But here are some thoughts.

At our core, all animals are motivated by two things: Desire and Fear.  Whether we’re talking about a flea or a paramecium or a German Shepherd or a shepherd who lives in Germany, at our core, that’s our pure motivation.  Of course, the larger your brain, the more complex that gets.  A moth feels desire for light, but fear of your hand trying to swat it.  A dog feels desire for food, but fear of the punishment he expects to come if he climbs onto the dining room table to eat it.  A human might feel desire to lie about something in order to get a promotion at work and earn more money which could get him a fancier car that he thinks would help him get a girlfriend, but fear that he might be discovered, and then be known to everyone as a liar and despised.  See what I mean about growing complexity!

Now laziness is something that is only achieved by those who know, or believe, that they can get away with it.  No one is lazy when their house is on fire, for example.  Nor would anyone be lazy if you offered them a million dollars if they could get to you in the next ten seconds.  But everyone can be a bit lazy on a vacation morning when they’re supposed to go to a tennis lesson at 7 a.m., but they got to bed late and the sound of the ocean lapping outside the window is soooo peaceful and the bed is sooooo warm and…  you get the idea.

So fundamentally, what your friend needs to do is to find a mixture of the Desires and the Fears of the people he is supposed to lead, and make those factors so strong that they can’t stay lazy in the face of them.

Therefore, beyond what the JROTC tells him to do, I suggest that your friend find out what these lazy people really want and fear.  What can he promise them – good and bad?  Are they only taking JROTC to get out of taking some school classes?  That’s pretty low motivation, but threatening to send them back to those classes might be a pretty good motivator.  Promising a pizza party as well, if they get everything right, might be an even better one.

But truly, sarah, I’d suggest he speak to his superior officers.  They must have hundreds of motivational methods they’ve developed over the years.  This shouldn’t have to be something he comes up with on his own.

Good Luck, to both of you!



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Paco - July 13, 2012 Reply

Just to clarify, ROTC isn’t limited to the army. All the other branches have their own as well.

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