Competence in Arboriculture: Motivation

In a previous article, “Competence in Arboriculture” (TCI Magazine, January 2020), we discussed such topics as modalities of learning, how to build a training program and different resources to use when building your training program. In this article, we’ll expand on a subject we touched on in that article – motivation.

Great teams are constantly looking to improve. Our goal is to facilitate those principles to our staff across the country. Shown are some of Wright Tree Service’s Safety, Education and Training Team members. Photos, which were taken pre-COVID-19, courtesy of Wright Tree.

How do those of us in leadership positions motivate others? How will the strategies and tactics we use either positively or negatively affect our team members? My hope is that by sharing some ideas and experiences, it can help you avoid some of the pitfalls I have experienced, or help you develop a strategy of your own. This article is not, however, just for those who are currently in a leadership role; people don’t follow titles, nor do you have to wait until you are promoted to work on leadership, as cliché as that sounds.

I want to share a story of one of the most influential persons in my life. Dalan Zartman and I worked together for a fire department in central Ohio. Dalan had been in the department for 10 to 15 years prior to me joining. He was, and still is, one of the most respected persons in the industry for technical rescue. He is a constant work in progress, never satisfied with the status quo and always looking to better himself. He has all of the physical and mental characteristics needed for an extraordinary technician of the job. Yet, that is not the biggest reason he has been a huge influence on me.

The reason he has been, and will continue to be, an influence on me is because of the way he carries himself. Never getting too high or low in emotion. Never one to dig into the drama of the job. And, most important of all, he chose to find out who I was as a person. Our relationship was built on a personal connection first, then on how we could both benefit from one another to meet a collective goal.

Many faces of motivation

Motivation comes in many different forms to different people. We have to understand that leadership is nothing more than the art of influencing people to work together toward that common goal. What might influence or “motivate” some folks will certainly detract or isolate others. In order to understand how to influence your team members, you have to develop a relationship with them. John Maxwell, renowned author and curator of leadership, wrote, “People don’t care what you know, until they know you care.”

What is motivation? It is defined as “a driving factor for actions, willingness and goals.” Motivation is derived from the word “motive,” or a need that requires satisfaction. According to the definition on Wikipedia, “These needs, wants or desires may be acquired through influence of culture, society, lifestyle or may be generally innate.”

What keeps you engaged or motivated? How are you motivating your people? How are your words and actions either positively or negatively influencing your folks? Or, perhaps most important, are what you are saying and doing in harmony with one another?

In motivation, there are two main types, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic means the motivation comes from within the person. Extrinsic means the motivation comes from an outside source. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone were intrinsically motivated? You didn’t have to tell them to get the job done, safely and efficiently. You never had to worry about calling them because they woke up late. It is unrealistic to wish for everyone on your team to be self-motivated. However, that doesn’t mean that if your workforce is not intrinsically motivated, they aren’t worthwhile.

We have to find ways in which to “dangle the carrot in front of them,” so to speak. You, as a leader, have to find out what motivates them. Are they solely motivated by money? Are they motivated by internal growth or learning? Are they driven to provide for their family? Or are they comfortable doing what they need to do to get the job done and go home? These are just a few questions you have to be willing to find answers to in order to best influence your workforce to contribute.

Share a connection

Something I feel is especially important in a skilled trade such as ours is the importance for field staff and office, or titled leadership, if you have those, to work together. Our most important resource is the people who physically perform the work, day in and day out. They need to know there is an investment in them.

With my position as a training supervisor, I travel around the country to help educate and train with folks in the field. I spend the majority of the first part of my visit working with them, whatever that may be – dragging brush, climbing, running equipment, etc. I have to develop a relationship with them before I can influence them. Once I can establish that, I am one of them – part of the team – and I can develop trust. With trust and developing a relationship, I have found much more success in influencing them.

Shifting gears

Wright’s trainers take great pride in working with their staff. They also must be working at their own craft so that they can best serve all of our team members.

A common theme I have heard in my travels is, “I’ve told these folks about this until I’m blue in the face. I don’t know why they just don’t get it.” While I’m sure it can be frustrating to have to repeat yourself about something you deem to be easy, you are not getting the message across. A quote that helps me in such times is, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different outcome.” If your message isn’t connecting with your people, you need to change your message. Or, at the very least, find a different approach for delivery of that message.


So, if you find yourself in a leadership position, it’s vital to find balance between leading from the front and leading from the rear. If you can physically do the work, it’s still imperative to get out there with your people. You don’t have to spend your entire day in the field, as I’m certain many can’t afford to do so. However, just getting out there can help establish rapport with your people. They no longer have to wonder whether you know how to do it, because you are a part of the team. You also have the advantage of staying abreast of what’s going on with your most important resource.

Another great author and inspirational leader in his own right, Jocko Willink, describes some excellent leadership principles and strategies in his book, Extreme Ownership. To quote one of his passages: “Leaders should never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve, and they must build that mind-set into the team. They must face the facts through a realistic, brutally honest assessment of themselves and their team’s performance. Identifying weaknesses, good leaders seek to strengthen them and come up with a plan to overcome challenges.

“The best teams anywhere, like the SEAL teams, are constantly looking to improve, add capability and push the standards higher. It starts with the individual and spreads to each of the team members until this becomes the culture, the new standard. The recognition that there are no bad teams, only bad leaders, facilitates Extreme Ownership and enables leaders to build high-performance teams that dominate on any battlefield, literal or figurative.”

Evan Beck, CTSP, is an ISA Certified Arborist, a SPRAT Level 1 Technician and a safety supervisor with the Safety, Education and Training (SET) Team at Wright Tree Service, a 44-year TCIA member company based in Des Moines, Iowa.

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