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 →

Written by: Anthony Semann, Director at Semann & Slattery

Okay first things first, I am a voyeur when it comes to Facebook. I read more than I contribute, I squeal with joy, I shudder in despair, I am astonished, I am amazed, and sometimes I forget to breathe in despair with some things that I read online.

Welcome to the world of Facebook. A place where educators unite and visions are created; and a place where we can be judged for our thoughts and cut down for our ideas. Now this is nothing new, and for those who deny this isn’t the case, I would love to hear what Facebook pages you subscribe to.

Don’t get me wrong I love Facebook (and hate it at the same time) as much as the next person. I see it as a great networking opportunity as well as a place where pictures are posted as a source of inspiration, and a place where documents are uploaded to support others in their personal and professional journey.

So nice things aside, let’s talk about comments that leave us thinking ‘what the…was that’! I understand that we all have different perspectives. I appreciate that we all see the world differently. I value the fact that others don’t think like me, but I just don’t get why people take offence when their colleagues choose to think differently and consequently go on a verbal rampage online.

I’m no victim, but I have had my fair share of viscous comments about posts I have placed on Facebook. Luckily for me I am thick skinned and take the good and the bad with a grain of salt. However, I am not so sure about others in our sector who are yet to find their voice, and may not be as resilient as I am, and I fear that they will take offence (understandably) to being verbally cut down in public.

I am not going to go down the whole Code of Ethics argument to justify my position. However, I do urge people to consider the following:

  • You are not always right when it comes to your beliefs, so allow others to have their own opinion without fear of being cut down
  • There is no excuse for being rude to each other
  • We all need to learn to self regulate ourselves in person and online
  • If you haven’t got anything nice to say or don’t know how to give feedback in an appropriate and constructive way, walk away from your keyboard and have a cup of peppermint tea
  • Chill out about spelling mistakes. We are online, not being published in a journal. I assume we don’t all go around correcting people when they don’t pronounce things correctly in real life? People make mistakes – welcome to life
  • Remember, it is easy to find out where you work with one simple click on your profile. You are not only representing yourself, you are also representing your organisation
  • Generosity and kindness can get you places and this is also true on Facebook
  • We don’t have to think the same in order to think together
  • Everyone is entitled to their opinion but this is not a license to disagree with someone in a way that is offencive
  • There is no room for racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc., in real life or in cyber land
  • Your journey is your journey and others may not have had the pleasure of your experience, and the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Don’t be a know it all
  • Your tone and intent can be misread by others, so always double check and think critically about how your words may be read and interpreted by others (although there are no guarantees here)
  • Don’t bitch about your workplace in public. It is just not cool and it brings the sector down.

So are we all doomed? Should we all unsubscribe from Facebook and go back to pen and paper, or some good old-fashioned face to face communication? I think not. I believe Facebook has great potential to connect individuals to a world beyond our own.

We may never be able to create a space where debate is healthy, measured and valued, and that’s reality. But there is one thing for sure, I’ll always check my intentions when posting on Facebook (for myself, others and the sector), and I’ll make the choice to ignore comments which undermine or hurt others (or I’ll respond in a way that is diplomatic), and if I’m feeling a tad cheeky, I’ll just block people!


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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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10 Sep 2014
September 10, 2014

Strengths spotting

Coaching, Leadership 0 Comment

Lorraine Madden

8 September 2014

Much has been written about the benefits of using our strengths across all aspects of our lives. Interestingly, many of us have difficulty identifying strengths. In addition, most people who can name their strengths say they don’t use them all that much (Biswas-Diener, Kashdan & Minhas, 2011).

There are a number of questionnaires and assessments that can be used to determine a person’s strengths. Some are free, such as the Values in Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths. Other can be purchased for a fee, such as Realise2 and the Clifton Strengths Finder.

Discovering our strengths through a survey or assessment tool is helpful for a number of reasons. Importantly, it gives us a tool with which to better understand, articulate and utilise our strengths, which can make us happier, more productive, engaged, energised, resilient and confident (Linley, Willars & Biswas-Diener, 2010). This knowledge also helps us to notice, describe and talk about the strengths we see in others, and how using these strengths impacts on them and on others.

Linley (2008) describes the ability to notice strengths in others as strengths spotting. Strengths spotting means we are actively seeking to notice what people are doing when they are at their best. He provides the following list of ‘telltale signs’ of strengths use:

  • A sense of energy and engagement when using the strength
  • Losing a sense of time when using the strength
  • Rapid learning of knowledge and skills associated with the strength
  • A repeated pattern of successful performance using the strength
  • Exemplary levels of performance using the strength
  • Consistently getting the task donethat requires the use of the strength
  • Prioritising tasks that require the use of the strength
  • Feeling a strong desire or longing to use the strength
  • Being drawn to do things that play to the strength (Linley, 2008, pp. 74-75).

Asking someone to talk about what they are doing when they are at their best can also reveal a number of telltale signs indicating strengths use. Linley describes an activity he used with a group of students in which he asked them to first talk about something they dislike or find challenging, followed by something they love doing. You might like to try this with people you know. Look and listen for changes in energy and emotion; body language and gesture; voice quality, such as pitch and tone; word selection; and the delivery and impact of the story.

Refining your strengths spotting skills enhances awareness and understanding of your own strengths and the strengths of others, increasing the potential of using your strengths more frequently and effectively, resulting in greater benefits, for you and for others.

There is a lot you can do to better understand and refine your strengths spotting skills:

  1. To find out more about your strengths spotting skills, you can complete a strengths spotting scale. To access the scale go to:
  2. To read Linley’s complete chapter on strengths spotting go to:



Biswas-Diener, R., Kashdan, T. B. & Minhas, G. (2011).A dynamic approach to psychological strength development andIntervention. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(2), 1-6-118.

Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising Strengths in Yourself and Others. Coventry, England: CAPP Press.

Linley, A., Willars, J. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). The Strengths Book. Coventry, England: CAPP Press.

  read more →

by Anthony Semann

Words are just words, and in the world today there are consulting firms and marketing agencies employed to advise leaders about what to say and how to say things. However, in the end, all that matters is what you do, not what you say.

The words we use, the values we espouse, and the impressive language we throw around all pale into insignificance the moment we create a gap between our words and our actions. So this has prompted me to consider: How do we create workplaces and relationships that demonstrate integrity? How do we create workplaces and relationships that have a lasting impact? Perhaps the reality is that we have little influence on the people around us, and as such, their own capacity to exercise agency is what will determine their destiny. But alas, let’s not despair and throw our hands up in a downtrodden and helpless manner. Remember you, and only you have the power to determine your thoughts and actions. It is the influence you have on yourself that will have the biggest influence on you. That’s correct! You and only you can influence you!!

Here are some provocations for you to reflect on:

Your ego  – let it go as best you can and manage it when you feel like it is taking over your actions. Professor Amanda Sinclair suggests we can never be ego free but we can work towards having less of an ego. The ego we see creeping into our thoughts and ultimately our actions can stem from a range of reasons. For some it is a desire to be successful at any expense. For others, it may be a desire to always be right and to always have the last word. Once we recognise that too much ego will be our downfall, we come to assess the stakes and associated risks and hopefully identify actions and strategies to pack away our ego when it is taking over.

Your perception – of yourself isn’t always accurate or viewed by others in the same way that you view yourself. Some people are way too harsh on themselves whilst others accommodate and accept things in themselves that they would never accept in others. Attempting to ensure you do checks and balances about your own perception is a critical process in moving forward.

Seek answers – to the questions you don’t like to ask of yourself. Sometimes our desire to be right, to be successful and to be in control of others is sustained because we don’t check in with others regarding our intentions and our behaviours. These critical friends who can speak ‘power to truth’ won’t mix words. You may not like what they have to say, but you sure do need to listen.

Success at any cost – is dangerous. Many a great leader and colleague have failed as they pursue success at any cost. They see success as being narrowly defined and fail to realise that success requires a high degree of ethical behaviour and integrity. Without these two essential ingredients, success is temporal.

Apologise – when you need to. It is a sign of strength and sends a message to those around you that you too, like many others, make mistakes and are willing to apologise when you recognise injustice, or unfairness in your thoughts and behaviours.

So a final thought – above all, it’s what you do that really matters, because words are just words. read more →

This blog is the fourth in a series of five that explores the art of asking the proper question. In the last blog I looked at solution-focused questions. In this blog I offer some examples of solution-focused questions.

Examples of solution-focused questions

The following examples are offered tentatively and as suggestions only. Please note, this is not an exhaustive list, and certainly not one you would work through from beginning to end. In getting started, you might like to select one or two to try out, as appropriate and relevant to the conversation. You might also like to add your own to this list!

Exploring goals

–       What is the most important thing for you/us to be talking about right now?

–       What is the best possible outcome you are hoping for?

–       What would you like to happen that’s not happening now?

–       What do you hope to achieve from doing that? What would that give you?

–       Imagine you/your workplace twelve months from now. What would you like to be happening?

–       You have identified a number of issues and concerns. Which one is the most important one to start with?

–       What seems most achievable or manageable for you right now?

Exploring what’s happening

–       What’s currently happening?

–       Can you tell me a little more about that?

–       Can you give me an example of what that looks like?

–       What are others noticing about what’s happening?

–       What are your thoughts/feelings about what’s happening?

–       At what times throughout the day is this issue most evident/less evident?

–       When is the issue not happening/less of a concern? How is this different to other times?

Exploring options

–       What has worked for you in the past?

–       How can you move closer towards your goal?

–       What is the first step you could take?

–       Who can support you in making this change?

–       What support would you like from me?

–       What might be the pros and cons (or costs and benefits) of this course of action?

–       I wonder if there might be other possibilities you/we haven’t thought about?

–       Which of the options we discussed is the best possible fit for you right now?

–       How confident are you about taking this step? What would need to happen for you to feel more confident?

–       What are some of the obstacles that might get in the way? What can you do to overcome these obstacles should they arise?

–       Would you like to add a suggestion from me? (Offered tentatively and with permission)

–       How will you keep track of your progress? Measure your steps forward?

–       When would you like to check in again to see how things are going?

 Exploring progress and next steps

–       What’s changed? How are things different?

–       What are you most excited about/most proud of?

–       What worked well? What didn’t work so well?

–       What did you learn?

–       How would you do things differently next time?

–       What barriers have you overcome? How did you do this?

–       Where to from here? What are your next steps you will take?

–       Now that you have made some progress towards your goal, how will you ensure you stay on track?



Grant, A. M. (n.d.). The GROW Coaching Checklist [Handout]. Retrieved from 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 →