Students: Employees? Volunteers? Gym Customers.

One of my obsessions is Student Motivation. Wonderfully complex, and often unpredictable, students don’t seem to fit into any of the typical leadership boxes. How do we motivate students to put in the hard work and focus that deep learning requires?

The spectrum of leadership situations ranges from employee to volunteer. The tools that leaders have to cause their people to act cover a wide range as well.

Employees can be bossed around.

At the employee end of things, one can resort to positional leadership: when someone has control over another’s livelihood s/he can use phrases such as “because I said so,” and “it’s your job, do it.” The positional leader has leverage: follow or be fired.

Volunteers don’t respond well to positional leadership.

We can’t threaten to fire volunteers. If they’re going to put in the hard work, they must be convinced that the leadership’s vision is worth working for. There is no leverage. This must be why John Maxwell says that the best test of a person’s leadership ability is a volunteer organization.

Students aren’t employees or volunteers.

It’s true, faculty do possess positional leadership options over students: grades, transcripts, permanent records that could influence a person’s life. But, regardless of what many believe, students are in college voluntarily. While they may be pressured by family and society, no law exists which requires a person to go to college. The result: positional leadership won’t always get the job done.

(Nor should it) Positional leadership may get people to do what you want, but it will never lead them to reach their maximum potential.

Students have a lot in common with gym customers.

People pay gyms for the opportunity to do hard work that will improve their lives. The membership is useless if the customer doesn’t put in the work. Perhaps we can learn to motivate students by studying what gyms do to recruit and retain customers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *