Carrots & Sticks are So Last Century

Amber Johnson Care for people, Leadership

As the parent of a Chicago Public School student, last week was a challenging one. More than just interrupting our newly established school day routine, and our regular traffic patterns around the city, the strike brought some big questions to light, including the question of how to motivate teachers and students to excel in the midst of challenging circumstances. This, of course, is a fundamental question of leadership and not just education.

The science of motivation has gone through some radical shifts in the last decades. While we used to assume that rewards were the way to motivate good behavior, we now know that only works to a point: if you pay people a reasonable amount, paying people more won’t necessarily get you the results you want, or need. As author Daniel Pink says, “Carrots and sticks are so last century.”

Pink, in his book Drive, highlights extensive research that shows if you want to motivate performance that is beyond mechanical behavior, you need to rely on:

  • Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives.
  • Mastery— the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
  • Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Surely that’s advice that leaders of all organizations can take into account.

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Amber Johnson is the Center for Values-Driven Leadership‘s corporate relations and social media advisor. She is a non-profit and small business communications professional. In addition to blogging about business for the CVDL. Amber writes about marriage and other topics on her personal blog.
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