Does stress get a bad rap?

Stress Reading The Motivated Brain by Gayle Gregory and Martha Kaufeldt—referenced in my previous post—I was reminded of the Yerkes-Dodson Law of Arousal.

I’m sure you think about this all the time, but I had to re-familiarize myself with it. According to YD, increased arousal—stress, pressure—usually helps improve performance, up to a point.

Stress, pressure, or tension from pushing ourselves mentally, physically, or emotionally gets the juices flowing to help us produce the desired result. But too much stress can be overwhelm us and diminish productivity.

In the music world I see performers play better when there’s something at stake. I can personally attest to the fact that playing in front of thousands at the Hollywood Bowl gets you going in a way that rehearsing in your garage doesn’t. (That might qualify as a “duh.”)

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Where does motivation come from?

Motivation I recently gave a Skype talk on "business lessons from rock" for a group of CEOs, arranged though Trusted Peer, an online business network.

Hopefully, despite Skype disconnections that limited the length of the conversation, the audience learned a few things. I certainly did.

Hearing myself discuss the all-importance of employee enthusiasm and engagement—and the importance of loosening the reins of management to let this happen—I realized how crazy some of my ideas can sound to business leaders who have achieved major success by working in more traditional ways.

But the truth is business leaders tend to undervalue employee engagement—and the results show it. Gallup polls over the years consistently report that most workers are not emotionally engaged in their work, at a terrific cost to their employers.

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Who serves whom?

I can't say I'm a big fan of Servant Leadership. The idea, in principle, sounds great: a leader or manager is a servant inasmuch as s/he "serves" the "followers." The leader or manager works for the team, the organization, etc.

I saw a lot of this in my rock & roll days as mentioned in a previous post. A band’s management works for the band not the other way around. That management is usually hired (and often fired) by the band, and needs to produce results on behalf of the band. A revolutionary governance model if practiced in mainstream business. Of course most businesses are started by owner/managers who hire others as subordinates not managers. But if those managers at least acted as if they could be fired by their subordinates, that might be useful.

So if Servant Leadership is designed to turn the organizational chart upside down, what’s not to like? SL in practice, however, is often used in subtle ways to reinforce hierarchy, with paternalistic overtones. (Some have argued, including Deborah Eicher-Catt, that the very language of Servant Leadership reinforces a model of hierarchy and patriarchy.) The notion of "Father Knows Best"—that management (usually men) knows SO much more than lowly subordinates (and deserves privileged status and ginormous benefits)—is still firmly embedded in our thinking and is largely unquestioned. This is then made palatable by asking these managers to act as if they’re actually servants of their employees (wink, wink). How noblesse oblige.

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The best band you never heard

Moby GrapeHIGH RESOLUTION COVER ARTWe’ve talked endlessly about the importance of creating your own identity as an individual, team, organization, or business. This of course is what branding is all about. Identifying and promoting what’s unique about you—and your product/service. Otherwise, how do you stand out against the background noise?

So what happens to a small business that has off-the-charts talent yet fails to establish a distinct brand identity? Nothing. That's the problem. Here's one rock band that provides the case study in this.

Moby Grape was among the most promising groups to emerge from the San Francisco scene in the mid-sixties, when record labels were pouring buckets of money onto new rock bands like The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin’s Big Brother & the Holding Company. Many musicians considered the Grape the most gifted—and eclectic—rock group they’d ever heard, given the band’s proficiency with blues, folk, country, and even jazz. These guys had everything going for them, according to Rolling Stone’s brilliant critic David Fricke:

    "They had the looks, the songs, the guitars (three of ‘em) and the singing (five drop-dead, blues-angel voices)—everything they needed to be America’s Beatles and Rolling Stones combined. Everything except the luck."

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