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 →

This blog is the third in a series of five that explores the art of asking the proper question. In the last blog I looked at closed and open questions. In this blog, I will focus more specifically on asking solution-focused questions.

Solution-focused questions

Open questions that help us keep up moving forward in the direction of our goals are sometimes referred to as solution-focused questions. A study by Grant and O’Connor (2010) examined the effects of solution-focused and problem-focused coaching questions using an exploratory pilot study. The study found both problem-focused and solution-focused questions helped participants make progress towards a desired outcome. However, this was more so for participants who were asked solution-focused questions. In addition, solution-focused questions were found to have a greater impact on increasing positive emotions and self-efficacy, and helped participants to have a better understanding of the nature of the problem.

Solution-focused questions can be used in a number of ways. They can help us to:

–       Explore our uncertainty or ambivalence about making a change

–       Articulate our thoughts and feelings about a given situation

–       Raise awareness about our strengths, successes and achievements

–       Rethink our current way of thinking from another perspective

–       Imagine (or reimagine) a desired or best possible future

–       Gain clarity about a goal or goals

–       Build confidence, generate hope, and create a more positive mindset

–       Identify a range of options, strategies and action steps to achieve a goal

–       Evaluate progress towards our goals.

So what are some examples of these better, powerful, ‘magic’, solution-focused questions? To begin with, there is no ultimate list, although Bannink (2006) did come up with 1,001 of them! The best solution-focused questions need to be considered in the context of the current situation, the people involved in the conversation, the issues at hand, and the desired outcome.


Bannink, F. (2006). 1001 Solution-focused Questions. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Grant, A. M. & O’Connor, S. A. (2010). The differential effects of solution-focused and problem-focused coaching questions: a pilot study with implications for practice. Industrial and Commercial Training, 41(2), 102-111. read more →

This blog is the second in a series of five that explores the art of asking the proper question. Having introduced the importance of asking questions in our initial blog, I will now explore two different types of questions.

Different types of questions

Closed and open questions are two types of questions you may already be familiar with (Greene & Grant, 2003). Closed questions are typically used to obtain factual information and to check for accuracy. For example: Where do you live? Have you received coaching before? So what I am hearing you say is that reading isn’t your preferred way of learning. Have I got that right? While they have a purpose, closed questions don’t facilitate an interesting, thought provoking conversation in the same way that open questions can.

Open questions have the potential to promote learning and discovery, share thoughts and feelings, generate new ideas and possibilities and even facilitate positive change. However, in asking open questions, we need to take care we are asking the ‘better’ question (Tighe, 2011).

In finding the better question, much of the literature suggests we refrain from asking ‘why’ questions (See Tighe, 2011; Starr, 2008; Greene & Grant, 2003). Despite our intentions, ‘why’ questions can be interpreted as accusing, critical and judgmental. Asking why questions can force people to feel a need to justify themselves or defend their position. In addition, why questions tend to keep us stuck in the problem, which is not always helpful in generating solutions that keep us moving forward (Greene & Grant, 2003). Alternatively, questions more likely to open up a conversation in a way that promotes greater respect, interest and curiosity are those beginning with what, when, where, how and which (Tighe, 2011).

Consider the following questions and your reaction to them:

–     Why did you do that?

Compared with:

–       What was the outcome you were hoping for?

–       How did that approach help you achieve your goal?

–       What did you learn by doing it that way?


Greene, J. & Grant, A. M. (2003). Solution-focused Coaching: Managing people in a complex world. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Starr, J. (2008). The Coaching Manual. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Tighe, L. (2011). The Answer: Improve Your Life By Asking Better Questions. [eBook]. Published by read more →

By Lorraine Madden

Asking QuestionsAlbert Einstein (n.d.) is quoted to have said “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes”.

This blog is the first of a series of five that explores the art of asking the proper question. This blog introduces the importance of asking questions and offers some factors to consider. The second blog will explore two different types of questions: closed and open questions. The third focuses on asking solution focused questions. The fourth blog provides some examples of open ended, solution focused questions, and the fifth and final blog offers some final points to consider to enhance your questioning skills.

About asking questions

Much has been written about asking questions. We can read about the better question (Tighe, 2011); the powerful question (Greene & Grant, 2003; Starr, 2008); the magic wand question (O’Hanlon & Beadle, 2005); and the solution-focused question (Bannink, 2006), to name a few.

Questions are a critical component of our conversations (and relationships) with others. Asking questions helps us to acquire information, check facts, gain new insights, broaden perspectives, determine options, find solutions and build relationships. Asking questions of others and of ourselves is also an important feature of reflective practice.

In thinking about the questions you might use in a given situation, it can be helpful to reflect on your relationship with the person, the purpose of the conversation, and your intentions going into it, for yourself and the other person (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, 2002). This will help you determine the questions you might ask. Approaching the conversation with curiosity and an open mind will also inform your question choice.


Bannink, F. (2006). 1001 Solution-focused Questions. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Einstein, A. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Greene, J. & Grant, A. M. (2003). Solution-focused Coaching: Managing people in a complex world. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
O’Hanlon, B. & Beadle, S. (2005). A Field Guide to Possibility Land: Possibility Therapy Methods. London: BT Press.
Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R. & Switzler, A. (2002). Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Starr, J. (2008). The Coaching Manual. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Tighe, L. (2011). The Answer: Improve Your Life By Asking Better Questions. [eBook]. Published by read more →


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 →

Written by: Lorraine Madden, Associate @ Semann & Slattery

There is a strong evidence base about the benefits of using strengths at work. Discovering and using strengths has been found to help people achieve their goals, increase positive emotions and wellbeing, and enhance workplace performance (Linely, Willars & Biswas-Diener, 2010). Click on the following links to read more about the evidence base for using strengths:

Linely (2008) defines a strength as ‘a preexisting capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance’ (p. 9). He also argues that ‘realising our strengths is the smallest thing we can do to make the biggest difference’ (2008, p. 47)

Clearly, the research is compelling. However, we can’t utilise our strengths if we don’t know what they are! All to often, when people are asked to name their strengths, they struggle to do so. Interestingly, they can be quick to name the things they are not good at, or their so-called weaknesses.

Don’t despair! There are a number of resources available to help you identify your strengths. One that is well utilised is the Values in Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). The survey measures a person’s twenty-four character strengths. The results provide, in rank order, a person’s character strengths from 1-24, including their top five ‘signature strengths’. To complete the survey, go to Click on register and complete the free registration, prior to completing the survey itself. Allow yourself about 30 minutes to complete the survey.

When you get your results, some of you may be tempted to focus on those ‘strengths’ at the bottom of the list. Certainly, there may be some instances in which you may want to develop strengths lower down the order. However, where possible, look for opportunities to maximise the use of your signature strengths. Linely and his colleagues argue that in some instances it can be helpful to pair a top strength with a lesser one, in order to reach a goal. They also propose using a team approach, working with colleagues to utilise their strengths, together with your own, to achieve a desired result.

As a word of caution, Linely and his colleagues advise you take care not to overplay your strengths. Of course it is appealing to use what comes naturally to you, you are good at, and find energising. However, take care to ensure they are appropriate to the situation, context and people involved.

Why not make an appointment with yourself today (or this week) to complete the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. Suggest your colleagues to do the same so you can compare your results, remembering this is not a competition, as all strengths have value. Reflect on how you are currently using your signature strengths, both individually and collectively, and look for opportunities to ultilise them more frequently.

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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.

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Written by Lorraine Madden. Associate, Semann & Slattery

Everything you always wanted to know about coaching and were too afraid to ask!

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘coaching’? Most probably the answer is sport! Certainly, coaching has connections with sport, and draws on theories and research from sports psychology. It also draws on business consulting and management training, education and psychology (Grant & Greene, 2001). In recent years there has been increasing interest in the potential of coaching to enhance learning, performance and personal growth, and promote positive change personally and professionally. Increasingly, coaching is seen as a viable alternative or complement to professional development programs.

So what exactly is coaching?

Coaching has been defined in various ways in the professional literature. A study by Hamlin, Ellinger and Beattie (2009) investigated 36 definitions of coaching as part of a study to examine the range of meanings and understandings given to coaching. More recently, coaching has been defined as:

A collaborative endeavour between a coach and a client (an individual or group) for the purpose of enhancing life experience, skills, performance, capacities or wellbeing of the client. This is achieved through the systemic application of theory and practice to facilitate the attainment of the coachee’s goals in the coachee’s context (Standards Australia, 2011, p.10).

Put simply, coaching is a goal-oriented, solution-focused conversation between a coachee and coach, which promotes the learning and development of the coachee and supports them to create positive changes in their lives.

Coaching and mentoring – what’s the difference?

Sometimes the terms ‘coaching’ and ‘mentoring’ are used interchangeably. This can create confusion as to how they are different and when you might use one over the other. Typically, at the beginning of a coaching engagement, the coach will give an overview of the way they will work with the coachee. This provides an opportunity to define such terms, ensure there is a common understanding about what will happen in the coaching sessions, and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the coachee and the coach.

Mentoring typically involves someone with greater experience and expertise supporting a mentee to gain the skills, knowledge and expertise required in their new position. This is done through a combination of showing, telling and guiding. In coaching, the coachee sets the agenda, according to their purpose or intention in seeking coaching. In addition, while the coach will bring a particular set of skills, experience and expertise to the coaching relationship, this does not need to be related to the occupation or experience of the coachee (Greene & Grant, 2003).

Why coaching?

There is a growing body of evidence of the benefits of coaching for individuals, teams and organisations. This includes greater commitment to the goals set in coaching, and increased success in attaining those goals. It also includes increased well-being, hope and resilience (See Grant, 2003; Green, Oades & Grant, 2006; Spence & Grant, 2007; Greene, Grant & Rynsaardt, 2007; Grant, Curtayne & Burton, 2009).

These findings are supported in the outcomes of a project conducted by Semann & Slattery in 2011 with leaders and aspiring leaders in the early and middle education sector in Western Australia and the Northern Territory (Slattery, 2012). Participation in the project involved attendance at three professional development workshops and engagement in three individual coaching sessions. The focus of the program was to equip leaders to increase positivity in the workplace through increasing their own levels of hope and optimism. Results demonstrated increased levels of hope, optimism, work engagement and workplace wellbeing and reduced levels of stress. In addition, the majority of participants (89%) reported that they had very positive experiences of coaching.

Why not coaching?

Do you have a commitment to ongoing learning, enjoy challenging yourself, and are ready to create positive change? If the answer is yes, coaching might provide an alternative or addition to more traditional methods of learning and development such as conferences, workshops and/or professional reading.

Coaching is one of a suite of professional services available at Semann & Slattery. Contact our office for more information and a professional quote by phone (02 95571460) or email (

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