What Motivates? Fear or Love?

 In Love and Energy

I recently saw the movie Whiplash, which is about a young drummer who attends a renown jazz music conservatory in Manhattan. His dream is to become the next Buddy Rich. His talent is noticed by the top teacher in the school and he is invited to join the teacher’s prestigious studio band.

This teacher demands excellence from his students by bullying, demeaning, name-calling, and humiliating them.

He believes it’s his job to use these tactics in order to push students beyond their pre-supposed limits and achieve greatness. He wants to create the next Charlie Parker.


Photo Credit: Daniel McFadden

This movie struck close to home for me. I attended a prestigious music conservatory. I too was accepted into the class of the school’s top violin instructor at the time, a Russian-Israeli virtuoso who believed that humiliation and bullying was the path to excellence. This teacher produced many wonderful professional musicians.

I was grateful that there was a women’s restroom directly across from my teacher’s studio where I could retreat immediately after each lesson to cry silently in a stall.

The fear produced by this teacher motivated me to practice harder and longer, just as it did in the movie. However, the fear paralyzed me. I could play with virtuosity, but my muscles tied into knots and my arm shook in auditions.

I lost my confidence. I forgot that the reason I was there was for the love of music.

Fortunately, I had teachers at this same conservatory who used love and encouragement as their motivators. These music professors had the same high standards of excellence as my violin teacher and produced as many, if not more wonderful performers. These teachers, including the original members of the Cleveland String Quartet and Charlie Castleman, provided kindness, care, and inspiration. I am eternally grateful to them.

Thirty years later I had the privilege of conducting research at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) in collaboration with the Cavani String Quartet (CSQ).  The CSQ members also studied with the Cleveland String Quartet. In fact, the 2nd violinist from the original Cleveland Quartet, Peter Salaff, is the chair of CIM’s chamber music department.

This is what I learned from the Cavani Quartet and Peter Salaff: Create an environment for learning and performance that is based on loving, relating, and inspiring and your students will perform beyond their wildest dreams.

Members of the Cavani Quartet and Peter Salaff, Master Class, Cleveland Institute of Music

Members of the Cavani Quartet and Peter Salaff, Master Class, Cleveland Institute of Music

These teachers demonstrate care for each other and for their students. They talk about empathy for the composer and encourage students to use kindness with each other in all communications, especially in rehearsal. They instill a positive, respectful, trusting, and sharing atmosphere that nurtures relationships. Not only are these teachers an inspiration to their students, the students see themselves as fellow inspirers of each other when they perform together.

What if leaders were to use love, relating, and inspiration as the fuel for collective virtuosity within their organizations?

Imagine an environment in which kindness is the norm! People work hard to reach excellence in a place where people encourage and inspire each other. I know that there are many organizations that embrace these values and take care to create this type of environment.

Neuroscience studies show that when a person is under stress, the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, which results in increased blood pressure, reduced immune system function, and higher levels of stress hormones in the body. In research conducted by Boyatzis and his colleagues, they found that people in organizations are less receptive to new ideas or making changes when they are in a negative state.  Conversely, when a person is in a positive, inspired state, the parasympathetic system is activated, which lowers blood pressure, restores tissue function and releases pleasure hormones such as oxytocin and ? . Again, research by Boyatzis et. al shows that people in a positive, inspired state are open to new ideas, people, and to making sustained change (1).

Which path do you choose? Fear, or love? 

(1) Chapter titled, “When Pulling to the Negative Emotional Attractor is Too Much or Not Enough to Inspire and Sustain Outstanding Leadership” in The Fulfilling Workplace: The Organization’s Role in Achieving Organizational and Individual Health (2013), R. Burke & C. Cooper, Editors

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