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Resurrection Moss and the Root of Motivation


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Managing Others
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By Tom Davidson

On a recent trip to southern Utah, I visited several of the magnificent parks that dot the landscape there, including Arches, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Canyonlands National Parks. Because of my combined interest in ecology and leadership, I took time to hunt for a particular species of moss in Canyonlands that survives in some of the most arid and harsh environments in the United States. As I had thought, my quest revealed something important about the root of motivation.

Because resurrection moss is hard to spot, I asked a park ranger for a little help in finding the plant. She said that it would be hard to find because it looks like “dirt on rocks.” But with a few more pointers on how to pick out this particular kind of “dirt,” I was able to spot a few likely suspects on my hike and perform the little experiment I had in mind.

The burst of growth and productivity
Taking a few extra bottles of water along on my little expedition, I was able to test for resurrection moss by pouring a little of the liquid on my suspect dots of dirt. When I found the right material, a few drops of water made the dirt-like moss explode into a lush green mat, resembling the mosses I was more familiar with in the wetter climates of the east.
Resurrection moss is one of a number of plant species that have adapted to their particularly harsh and dry locations. This particular variety looks like “dirt on rocks” most of the time because it stays in a dormant state until it comes in contact with any small amount of moisture, usually from rain and rarely from a hiker like me.

When it rains on the moss, its tiny flowers erupt in a small blanket of green to perform the life-sustaining functions of photosynthesis. However, the moment is fleeting for resurrection moss, because this phase only lasts a few hours before it returns to its dormant state to wait for a little more water to fall.

What’s your water?
People are much like resurrection moss. They work in harsh environments most of the time, withholding their potential energy for times when they are more motivated to perform. People have a vast supply of voluntary (or discretionary) effort that they can put forth when they choose. But it is the leader’s responsibility to supply them with much-needed water that encourages them to blossom to their full potential.

Just like the moss, all people really need to blossom to their full potential is a little bit of water, a reason to come out of their more dormant state and perform at their very best. What is this water that they need? It’s different for each person, because his or her intrinsic motivations are different from those of others.

To help your associates bloom and grow in their work, new and experienced managers must consider the following and take action to provide the water they need:

  1. Find out all you can about their individual goals, interests, and motivations. These are the intrinsic motivations that bring forth the very best efforts of each person. Most new managers assume they know what those are, but experienced leaders are on the look out for these all the time.
  2. Find the best fit for each person. This is the most important aspect of performance, and it starts with hiring and promotion to the right job for that person. Without a good fit in their roles, people struggle to perform at their best. With a good fit, high performance is easy, learning is fast, and results can be magnificent.
  3. Enrich people’s jobs if “best fit” is challenging or jobs are mundane. Managers can enrich any person’s job by giving them additional or different tasks that are interesting, fun, challenging or developmental for that individual.

Enrich people’s jobs if “best fit” is challenging or jobs are mundane. Managers can enrich any person’s job by giving them additional or different tasks that are interesting, fun, challenging or developmental for that individual.


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