Motivation and ability

At a very early stage in my life I discovered that I couldn’t sing, indeed that I wasn’t at all musical. This was a cause of regret. I would love to have sung in a choir or, even better, purchased a guitar and joined the folksy, flower-power movement of the 1960s. My fantasy was to be invited to join Joan Baez on the stage.   The reality was that I was hopeless, even when my voice was diluted with 50,000 others at Cardiff Arms Park.

My father had a good, if untrained voice. He was an intolerant man and his response to my inadequacy was to repeatedly complain that ‘I didn’t try’. In this harsh way I learned the difference between motivation and ability – a distinction that has stuck with me ever since. I tried hard to sing (motivation) but could did not have the musical ear (ability).   Understanding this distinction lies at the heart of effective performance management in organisations. If a subordinate is underperforming is it because they lack motivation or, they are trying hard but lack the knowledge and skills needed.? If the latter it is likely that supportive colleagues will cover up and assist them. I drew extensively on this model when working as a training manager.

This all came back to me in a far more sympathetic atmosphere. I am greatly enjoying my Monday afternoon Scottish Dancing at Blakeney Scout Hut. I try hard but am not very good. On Monday, Eddie, our excellent in instructor, had us moving around in a circle using the Strathspey travelling step.   Witnessing my performance he simply said ‘you are not getting it are you?’, and pulled me out of the circle to place both hands on his shoulders behind him and try to copy his movements. My fellow dancers were encouraging rather than contemptuous of my limitations; they are a most generous group. By contrast Eddie was a little less tolerant later when he told me to take my hand out of my pocket when dancing – I certainly have the ability to manage this manoeuvre and should have demonstrated it.

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