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  • Matthew Davies

Emotion Drives Motion

Over the past eight months, I've added a lot of strings to my bow, but perhaps the most enjoyable of these has been dipping my toe into the education sector, both coaching and running action learning sets with groups of head teachers from across Scotland. When I left RBS/Natwest in September, I'd spend eight years working with leaders, from brand new, first line managers right up to seasoned execs, and across business units as diverse as technology, transformation, payments, finance, front line retail banking, data and analytics and HR. But despite the diversity in their day to day operations, all of them were united by the fact that they worked in banking - with all the challenges, opportunities, benefits and drawbacks that this brings.


Since going out on my own, I've added a number of new sectors and a lot of different businesses to that experience - a few more banks certainly, but also construction, insurance, recruitment, marketing, software engineering, sales and several others! The one which has offered the most stretch for me, however, has been education.


Working with teachers has been extremely rewarding. I have a number of teachers in the family (my sister is a primary school teacher and my parents in law were both teachers before they retired a few years back) and my own experiences at school (shout out to Laurencekirk Primary and Mearns Academy!) were so overwhelmingly positive (except being overlooked for Head Boy, but I'm not going to get drawn into a rant on the greatest injustice in history here!) that I've got a deep appreciation for what teachers do and the impact they can have.


That appreciation has only deepened as I've worked with them more closely, particularly having seen what they've faced over the past few years. Rightly or wrongly, the pandemic saw a drive to keep schools open as much as possible and when that couldn't be achieved, the speed with which schools had to pivot to online learning, which most of them had no experience of at all, was remarkable. As someone who delivers a lot of content online, I know how hard engagement is to maintain, compared to being in a live environment - and that's for grown adults who either choosing or, at the very least being paid, to be there - let alone trying to engage children whose concentration levels are tough enough to maintain within a learning environment!


The motivators and drivers that brought the leaders I've worked with into a career in education have tended to be quite different to many of the other sectors I've worked in. For a start, unless they've been misled, nobody ever got into education to get rich - it's not that kind of profession. That's not to say everyone else in every other sectors is solely motivated by money, or that teachers aren't well paid, but when you map out your career in teaching vs mapping out a potential career in financial services for example, one has a significantly higher financial ceiling than the other.


Working with the teachers has taught me a lot and during my post-coaching reflective practice, when I'm reviewing how sessions have gone, where I could have been more effective and how the session felt, I'm often struck by quotes or nuggets of wisdom which they've shared in our time together. One of the most memorable, when discussing the behavioural challenges that had been taking up a lot of time and energy in a school whose Head I was coaching, was the quote which gives the title of today's blog. Emotion drives motion. How you feel, determines what you do.

This phrase is useful to consider in a couple of directions. Firstly, when you're seeing motion - in this case kids lashing out, verbal abuse, physical altercations etc - it's being driven by something. All behaviour is data. It's a reflection of how the person feels. When their behaviour is undesirable, something inside them is driving it. When we are faced with that as leaders, parents, spouses, we have, on the surface, two options - ignore it or address the behaviour. Ignoring it doesn't help, but it's a judgement call as to whether we can tolerate it, whether we have the energy to deal with it directly and how much it will realistically affect us. Addressing the behaviour (scolding, punishing etc) can yield short term results but it's really just papering over the cracks. Behind these two, lies a third option - recognise that emotion drives motion and, if appropriate, strive to understand and unpack the situation and address the underlying emotion to help enable a change in behaviour. This can be challenging and it can take time and energy - but if it's a relationship that matters then that's an investment that needs to be made.


On the other side, the phrase recognises that your emotions drive your behaviour. How we feel, impacts upon what we do. When we feel flat and lethargic and disengaged, that impacts upon how we spend our time and expend our energy. By better understanding and managing our own emotions, we can load the deck in our favour, in terms of changing our motion, our behaviours and therefore the outcomes we achieve. Interestingly, Tony Robbins uses the phrase in reverse, saying that motion drives emotion, and that changing our physiology can change our mental state. I've certainly experienced that first hand myself.


Keep an eye out for the behaviours of those round about you. What's standing out? What's changed? What might that be telling you and, importantly, what might you need to do to better understand it?

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