Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Flow - The Motivating Leader

Rereading Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi's work on flow made me wonder about the leader's role in creating flow experiences for the members of our organizations. This is much simplified but for the purposes of this quick note this definition will suffice: "Flow tends to occur when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable." If the challenges are too great for the person's skill, the person becomes anxious. If the challenges are too low, boredom can set it. This short definition has given me a great tool for analysis. If I'm feeling bored, then what do I need to do to challenge myself. If I'm feeling anxious in my work, what do I skills do I need to work onto be more able to handle the task at hand?

In the day-to-day reality of leadership, part of our task is to match skill sets with jobs that need to be done. I stayed at one university for eleven years, in part because my supervisor was able to find new things for me to do and to learn - in other words, she gave me challenges that were in reach but required me to be fully engaged in the work to do them well. Are you challenging the people you work with appropriately? If you are not, have you set up a culture that allows people to address it individually or ask for new opportunities or training as appropriate to the situation?

It's true that we can't really motivate others, but we can certainly demotivate them? We can also challenge and support them. What kind of leadership are you exercising? Is it more likely to produce anxiety, boredom or flow? What do you need to do to find the right level of challenge and skill for yourself and others? Again questions that only you can answer!

Good luck,


Quote from Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (1997).

No comments:

Post a Comment