By Lorraine Madden, Semann & Slattery

Leaders in early and middle years settings often ask how they can motivate their teams. Edward Deci, who together with Richard Ryan developed Self-Determination Theory, argues that this is the wrong question. He suggests a more helpful question is: ‘How can you create conditions within which others will motivate themselves?’ (Deci, 2012). Let’s take a step back and explore some of the key components of self-determination theory before going back to the Deci’s question.

 Self-determination theory

Self-determination theory is an evidence-based theory of human motivation, which recognises that people are moved to act (or not act) for different reasons, with motivation being the driving force behind these actions or inactions. Accordingly, motivation can be described as exiting along a continuum from autonomous motivation to controlled motivation Deci & Ryan, 2008; Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Autonomous motivation

Autonomous motivation refers to the pursuit of goals or activities that align with our values and that we identify with as important, that is, they are internally motivating. In autonomous motivation there is an element of willingness and choice, and interest and enjoyment. There is also a greater sense of purpose, meaning and satisfaction (“I love doing it). Autonomous motivation can also occur when there is a conscious valuing of a goal or task, such that it is accepted or owned as being personally important (“I can see it is important”).

Controlled motivation

Controlled motivation refers to the pursuit of goals and activities for extrinsic or externally motivated purposes. In controlled motivation, people may feel pressured or forced to act in a particular way, such as to avoid guilt or embarrassment, or to gain a sense of importance in the eyes of others (“I should do it”), or to gain a reward or avoid a punishment (“I have to do it”).

This continuum of motivation, detailing the different types of motivation, from intrinsic to extrinsic, is detailed below:


Adapted from Ryan & Deci (2000)

Understanding what motivates you

Think about something you do:

  • For the pure joy of doing it
  • Because you have to do it
  • Because you think you should.
  • For what you will gain

How does this play out in how you engage in these experiences and how you feel while doing them and afterwards?

Providing autonomy support

So back to our original question: How can you create conditions within which others will motivate themselves? Deci argues that the answer is to provide autonomy support to assist people to motivate themselves.

Deci (2012) proposes that to provide autonomy support we need to:

  • Consider people’s perspectives – Ask yourself how do they see the situation in order to better understand where they are coming from
  • Provide choice – Involve people in decision-making processes
  • Promote self initiation – Allow people to be self starters
  • Support exploration – Provide opportunities for people to try out new ideas and ways of doing things
  • Provide a meaningful rationale – When people understand the purpose of something they are more able to identify with it as being important.

Benefits of autonomous motivation

Deci (2012) also highlights a number of benefits associated with autonomous motivation. When people are autonomously motivated, he argues, they perform better, are more creative, better problem solvers, have more positive emotions, and better physical and psychological health.

A final word

By changing the question, from ‘How can I motivate others?’ to ‘How can I create conditions within which others will motivate themselves?’ we can take on a different role that is within our control in motivating others. This can lead to benefits for the individual while also having a flow on effect for the team and organisation.




Deci, E. L. (2012). Promoting Motivation, Health, and Excellence: Ed Deci at TEDxFlourCity.        [You tube video]. Retrieved from

Deci, E. & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development and health. Canadian Psychology, 49(3), 182-185.

Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. read more →

By Phillip Butler

When thinking about what role you might want to play in your setting, whether it be as the Director, co-educator, teacher or educational leader, you have the opportunity to dramatically influence the environment and the people around you if you choose to.

I would like to put forward the revolutionary idea that all teachers can lead. If schools are going to become places where all children and adults are learning in worthy ways, all teachers must lead. (Ruth in Harris, Day, Hatfield & Chapman. 2003)

Recently I’ve been thinking more and more about the topic of leadership, and how key a role it has to play in the overall success of the early childhood setting. I like to think of the role in terms of houses and construction, and here’s why.

Picture a house, a well constructed, obviously expensive house. A house that while being made of the finer materials is relatively plain in design. It has four simple walls, two stories, and plain windows. Not the most inviting of houses, but a pleasant enough house to look at and one which has utilised every square footage of the available ground for bedroom space.

Now picture another house, a house that has been designed to complement the environment around it. It has a beautiful indoor / outdoor living space, glass stairs, contorted and shaped roof, is fully self sustainable and environmentally friendly. What is the difference between these two houses? Why does one end up looking and feeling plain, simple, understated, while the other looks so inviting and feels so right when you walk through it? They both were built under the same building regulations and codes, both working with materials readily available, and both with the same budget. The difference is that one had an architect to help design and plan its construction, and the other had a builder. Now, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with a house built without the use of an architect, but it’s always clear to the viewer when you do walk into an environment that has had that extra design.

So you need to be the architects of your environment. Architects look at the spaces and dream big. They think of the spaces and who will be using them, planning for harmony, and most importantly, they have a passion for their vision and will stand up for it against anyone.

Charismatic school leaders are perceived to exercise power in socially positive ways. They create trust among colleagues in their ability to overcome any obstacle and are a source of pride to have as associates. Colleagues consider these leaders to be symbols of success and accomplishment, and to have unusual insights about what is really important to attend to; they are highly respected by colleagues. (Leithwood, Jantzi & Steinbach, 1999, p. 57)

We all have the same rules and regulations to abide by, it is the level we choose to move our colleagues and ourselves to, that is up to us. Don’t be a reactive practitioner, simply waiting for external prompts and motivation to move forward. Practice being proactive, utilise all your training, professionalism, practical experience, creativity and passion, and dare to create the environment that takes each viewers breath away. At this time of the year, it’s a great time to reflect upon what you are doing, and how you are going to be moving forward into the new year. What vision are you going to set, and how are you going to achieve it?

So here are some points to move your practice and thinking to another level:

  1. See with clarity what it is you are surrounded by and why things are the way they are
  2. Question your intentions and motivations for your current way of being and doing
  3. Explore alternatives to how you think and practice. Assess the merit and benefits, the challenges and the pitfalls of each of your current practices
  4. Think in a bespoke way. Tailor your thinking and practice to where you work.
  5. Expect nothing less than excellence in all that you do
  6. Push yourself to the limits of your comfort zone (we dare ya)
  7. Think deeply about how you can plan success well into the future
  8. Start small but always think big.


Please feel free to join the conversation at Semann & Slattery Facebook ( and Twitter (@semannslattery) or email (

Harris, A., Day, C., Hatfield, A., & Chapman, C. (2003). Effective Leadership for School Improvement. London: Routledger & Falmer.
Leithwood, K., Jantzi, D. & Steinbach, R. (1999). Changing Leadership for Changing Times. Buckingham: Open University Press.

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Have you felt entrapped by the surge of frustration coursing through your body?

It can pounce without notice!

Sometimes it builds from small things turning into deep murmurings. If it is left to fester it drives varying size wedges between us. To avoid this potential disaster at work we have to be ready with a suite of commanding tools so that we are not derailed by surprises or methodical degradation of relatedness.

The following three steps will potentially help you stay connected and frustration free at work.

1. Stop with the stories in your head

One of the most powerful keys to successfully overcoming frustration is to stop making the problem more complicated by creating stories in our head. The best way forward is to create a list of the facts, which are causing the frustrating and take only these to the people involved, bravely and mindfully.


 2. Pull the facts apart to understand another perspective

During these times of frustration we often feel like pulling something apart. Sometimes it’s the boss, other times it’s the organisation and still others it’s the person we feel has created the frustration for us. While this may help us ‘feel’ better the end result often complicates future relatedness.

Therefore stick to the facts! Analyse, pull apart, these and these only. By unpacking the facts relationship have a better chance of staying in tack or even strengthening. Facts are facts. They don’t change and they are not personal. Therefore by focusing on the unique parts of a fact and exploring another’s understanding enables collaborative perspectives to be developed. This open space potentially creates room for true innovation.


3.Focus on the innovation

When the facts have been analysed and a new collaborative understanding has been arrived at, true innovation can begin. As Albert Einstein said, you can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that it created. As you look at the unique parts of the facts and discover a new way of looking at them, potentially you will be able to move beyond the frustration. The impact of this mindfulness often results in the disempowerment of frustration. It also frees us up to think cohesively about the problem rather than remaining stuck in the frustration.


Above all, keep your thoughts on the facts and not on the person. This will enable you to move forward through the entrapment of frustration and discover the freedom offered by a new and collaborative perspectives. read more →

In this blog we will introduce the concept of positive psychological capital and the four key theories that build positive psychological capital (PsyCap). In coming blogs we will expand on each of these theories with practical activities that you can do to boost your PsyCap overall.

What is PsyCap?

Psychological Capital can be defined as:

“An individual’s positive psychological state of development that is characterised by:

  1. having confidence (self-efficacy) to take on and put in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks;
  2. making a positive attribution (optimism) about succeeding now and in the future;
  3. persevering toward goals, and when necessary, redirecting paths to goals (hope) in order to succeed; and
  4. when beset by problems and adversity, sustaining and bouncing back and even beyond (resiliency) to attain success” (Luthans, Youssef, & Avolio, 2007 p. 3)

Each of these components of PsyCap have a background in theory and research; can be measured; can be developed over time and has a positive impact on performance (see Luthans, 2002; Luthans & Youssef, 2004).

Why is PsyCap important?

Research into PsyCap has demonstrated the following:

  • Higher levels of PsyCap is associated with higher levels of job satisfaction, organisational commitment and well-being at work
  • It is negatively related to cynicism toward change – people are more open and less cynical about change in their organisations
  • People with higher levels of psychological capital are likely to be energised that it is exhibited as higher performance over longer periods of time
  • People with higher levels of PsyCap are able to generate multiple solutions problems, have positive expectations about results and respond positively to setbacks

We can see that developing and building our PsyCap has real benefits for both individuals and organisations in enhancing workplace well-being and developing ongoing resilience.

How do I measure my PsyCap?

You can measure your own PsyCap by completing the PsyCap questionnaire, which can be found at

The questionnaire will give you an indication of your overall Psychological Capital as well as for Hope, Optimism, Self-efficacy and resilience.

In the next blog….

In my next blog contribution, I will discuss the role of Hope in Psychological Capital in detail. read more →

Lets face it time waits for no one! Time keeps ticking away regardless of our efforts to squeeze in more and more into our day.

The question then stands: Can we really be successful at time management. Clearly no one can manage time. Maybe this is why it is a source of constant frustration for so many people in every industry and organisation.

Therefore where should our focus lay? It’s all about us! We must turn our attention from that which we cannot manage, time, and focus on that which we can manage, ourselves.

We need to ask ourselves, what am I being coerced by, which is distracting me from using my time efficiently? What is keeping me from achieving my goals? Why do I allow seemingly unimportant things to side-track my purpose? Once we identify the answers to these questions we can begin to unpack our priorities, unlock our potentialities and begin to stand firm on behaviour which will strategically help us work towards achieving our goals.

When we start becoming more strategic around how we use our time the impact is wide and deep. The areas influenced are an impressive list:

  • Improved work-life balance
  • Increased productivity
  • Lower stress levels
  • Created opportunities for the important or what we do best
  • Developed delegation skillset and organizational skills
  • Enabled goal achievement

Let me offer five steps that may help you begin this process of reclaiming your authority for the purpose of achieving your goals within the time allocated.

  1. Prioritize actions for goal achievement
  2. Analyze what needs to be done and identify each actions purpose against your goals
  3. Filter out distractions, take authority of your space and be deliberate in who influences your focus
  4. Schedule in key people to enable success
  5. Execute your plan with mindfulness and purpose with key people around you, stay focused and always flexible

Remember, you are the only one who can achieve success in this aspect of your life and career. You must become the achieve ingredient in self-regulation and not a passive recipient; simply responding to other people’s agenda.

Now is the time to step up, identify your priorities and goals, action them purposefully and be the change you want to see. read more →

By Colin Slattery. Director at Semann & Slattery.

We’ve all been told that gossip and rumour is an evil scourge of the workplace and must be stopped at all costs. There are numerous articles offering advice on how to kill the poisonous grapevine. We follow this advice and then wonder why it doesn’t work and the grapevine continues to flourish. The reason is that gossip intrigues human nature. Yes, gossip does serve a real purpose in our lives and this blog post will help you understand what this is and then how we might go about containing and shaping and pruning the grapevine rather than kill it outright.

Gossip is a term that comes from the old English word “God-sib” or godparent. In early modern England, when a birth was about to occur, women would gather at the home of the family and share stories while waiting for the arrival of the newborn. Over time our association with the word gossip has become negative and we focus on the negative aspects of it.

However, in some instances gossip, in the workplace, can serve a purpose. Research from different disciplines has demonstrated that gossip is useful in a number of ways including maintaining social cohesion; making comparison with others; to obtain power; reduce stress and anxiety and as entertainment.

So when is gossip good and when is it bad? The blurring of the line between good gossip and bad gossip will depend on the intent of the person telling the news and the way it is told. The news of a pregnancy in the workplace is usually a good news story.

“Hey did you hear the news? Kim is pregnant and expecting twins! She is so happy.”

This example may be seen as good gossip. However, if we add a few bits here and there we can make it not so great.

“Hey, come over here. You didn’t hear it from me, but, you know how Kim has been desperately wanting to get Bill to marry her? Well now she’s pregnant! No wonder she is so happy. What do you think?”

In this example the story is the same but with a twist. Our storyteller has decided to embellish it a little with their personal view of the situation and innuendo to cast doubt over Kim’s motive in falling pregnant. Obviously this has the ability to hurt the subject of the gossip.

So how do we trim the grapevine and keep it under control? Unfortunately there are no quick fixes, especially if gossip has been allowed to flourish in a workplace. Some things that may be useful include:

  • not passing on negative information about a colleague no matter how juicy it sounds;
  • confronting the gossiper if possible (however there are usually power issues at play which make this difficult);
  • displaying professionalism and not engaging in the darker aspects of the gossip by asking – “I wonder how Kim would feel if she heard us talking about her like this”.

Gossip is one of those difficult and secretive subjects that occurs in the workplace. It does serve a functional purpose but has a dark side and we all have a part to play to make sure our grapevine doesn’t become poisonous. It is important that we remember our collective roles in ensuring that the workplace is a safe, pleasant and productive place for all including staff.

  read more →

We all have moments at work where we either want to scream or stomp a little! When communicating with colleagues becomes difficult or near impossible we need a new strategy to overcome the ‘communication hurdle’.

A brillant tool for achieving this goal is called Restorative Practice, or as I like to call them restorative conversations.

The restorative conversation process has its foundations in Restorative Justice. The main theme to these conversations is active listening for all and justice for all.

A restorative conversation is simple in its framework. It is a calm and open space where the following questions are asked of the offender and the victim:

Offender are asked these restorative questions:

  • “What happened?”
  • “What were you thinking about at the time?”
  • “What have you thought about since the incident?”
  • “Who do you think has been affected by your actions?”
  • “How have they been affected?”

Victims are asked these restorative questions:

  • “What was your reaction at the time of the incident?”
  • “How do you feel about what happened?”
  • “What has been the hardest thing for you?”
  • “How did your family and friends react when they heard about the incident?”

(See International Institute For Restorative Practices for more details and research behind these questions)

As you reflectively ask these questions you enable a space for people to open up and become more receptive to resolving difficult interpersonal communications. You also discover the way forward, which is empowering for both parties and reestablish a safe a secure work space.

Of course, active listening is key to the entire process. So listen, think and then speak/act!

Do not let bad feelings, due to poor communication, hamper the success of your team and workplace.

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We have past middle of the year, the winter solstice has come and gone, and we anticipate warmer days ahead. While you might not be quite ready for your annual spring clean, perhaps it’s time to give yourself a bit of a lift, to reenergise and reinvigorate yourself so you are at your best for the days, weeks and months ahead.

Often, in the busyness of the everyday, taking time out for the things that bring us alive are moved to the bottom of our ‘to do’ list, or taken off completely. This can be especially so in the cooler winter months, where many of us go into hibernation, and just getting out from under the doona takes all of the energy we can muster.

Barbara Frederickson is a world-renowned psychologist, positive psychology expert and author of the book, Positivity. She argues that while we can all name a number of things that bring us joy, many of us rarely give ourselves permission to do these things.

As part of your mid year rev up, why not generate a list of the things that energise you or bring you joy, and slot them in to your daily schedule just as you would brushing your teeth or attending an important meeting. To get you started, here are some of Fredrickson’s (2009) ideas for boosting positivity:

  • Be open in the present moment
  • Create high quality connections with others
  • Cultivate kindness
  • Develop healthy distractions
  • Dispute negative thinking
  • Find and connect with nature
  • Learn and apply your strengths
  • Mediate mindfully
  • Dream about your best possible future
  • Practice gratitude
  • Savour positivity – in the past, present and/or future
  • Follow your passions.

To watch Fredrickson’s talk on positivity and how to boost your positive emotions, go Positive Emotions



Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity. New York: Three Rivers Press. read more →

08 Jul 2013
July 8, 2013

Savvy leadership spaces

Leadership 0 Comment

How well do you know your leadership space? It’€™s an interesting question!

Leaders have to consider what kind of space they are working in. It is a very important aspect of leadership – understanding the space in which you lead.

What kind of critical thinking have you done around this?

The “€˜space”€™ can be the physical environment you lead in, the people in your sphere of influence or the staff who report directly to you.

To understanding your space critically reflect on the following questions

1. How is the space responding to the philosophy and vision of the workplace?

2. Why is the space responding in this way?

3. What kind of “€˜renovation”€™ work needs to be done as a response to Q1 and Q2?

Questions I ask myself when starting this kind of “€˜space”€™ analysis are, “What kind of spaces inspire me? Why do they inspire me? How can I appropriate this inspiration into my space?”

To give an example of physical spaces that inspire, I recently visited Challenger offices in the Hilton building, Sydney. They have been inspired to look for opportunities which provide for those “€˜spontaneous”€™ meetings/conversations which are so important for work flow and productivity. Hence their environment is open, with wide staircases for that “€˜quick chat”€™. They have flexible work areas so that different groups of people can work together as and when needed. They have comfortable seating so that staff are able to work comfortably  and stay focussed for long periods of time.  They provide places for individual thinking spaces too, for those moments where staff need to be distraction free.

This space inspired me to rethink my environment. I considered “€˜what”€™ and “€˜how”€™ I could make adjustments to thinking, and current spaces without spending dollars. Talking about the inspiration and seeing it catch on was my first step. Once people were buzzing and expectant I was ready to lead the physical space adjustments. The team enjoyed the collaborative space, the flexible furniture and sustainable thinking space.

I only discovered this need when I started to become savvy around my leadership spaces.

So consider these questions:

What kind of spaces inspire me?

Why do they inspire me?

How can I appropriate this inspiration into my space?

Now start critically and creatively reflecting on what comes up for you. Go on an “€˜excursion”€™, visiting a leadership space that inspires and ultimately assists you to have savvy leadership spaces. read more →

Teams! Your team! Your people, your staff are YOUR greatest asset.  This is the fact of the matter.  There are no maybes or perhaps about it! Your team is your greatest resource!

Ask yourself you do have a great team? Have you created a great team?

Selecting and managing your team is one of the most important roles a leader has. It impacts your work life, it impacts your teams ability to function, it impacts your organisational culture and it impacts company productivity.

So here are a few questions for you to think about or action or be inspired or be challenged by:

1. So you consider your team as your greatest asset? if so how do you show this?

2. How much time do you dedicate to selecting your team?

3. How do you select your team?  (Hint: traditional interviews rarely get you your dream team member)

4. Do you consider selecting the right team members one of your MOST important jobs?

5. Do you know what kind of team member you really need/want?

6. Do you have a strategy that will find you that person?

7. What are you going to do strengthen your team?

8. How are you identifying the weaknesses? What are you going to do about them?

Once you have answered these questions and begun to explore your reflections make sure you create a plan of action to either improve the quality of your team or begin strengthening it.

If you need any help with this then let us know! Email us @

Key point: Your team is your greatest asset – never ignore this under any circumstances. Therefore your team require your focussed attention and expertise every day. read more →