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Effective Leadership Communication: Carrots or Sticks?

In the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games all eyes were on Carl Lewis. His fourth gold medal awaited him in the long jump – to give him the record for the most medals won in the event (ever).

However, as he was lining up to take his third, and ultimately gold medal winning jump, his thoughts weren’t on why he should win.

Instead, he was thinking about his family in the grandstand and how they would be disappointed in him if he lost.

It seems odd that such a successful athlete was motivated by what would happen if he failed(stick) to make the jump, versus the glory of winning (carrot).

But the truth is around half of us are motivated by success, and the other half are motivated by the threat of failure. And of course sometimes we’re equally motivated by both.

Most professionals in business would agree: you are probably equally as motivated by success at work as you are by the thought of joining the dole queue.

The good news is that as a leader in your business, you can use the fear of failure concept to your advantage. Great communicators and leaders do it all the time. The trick is to use both success,and the fear of failure, in equal measure. Combining both carrots and sticks in your statements lend them much more power to motivate.

Carrots and Sticks example:
During a workshop in Germany, I was talking to a Manager who was struggling with articulating the benefits of workplace safety:

“Surely it’s obvious – the team gets a financial bonus for being safe at work”, he said.

I pointed out that the benefits of safety might seem obvious to some of his team because they are motivated by success (carrots). But the benefits probably wouldn’t strike home as much to the other half who are motivated by fear of failure (sticks).

So, his newly re-worked message to the team spelt out the financial rewards of keeping a safe workplace, while also mentioning the downside of spending time off work in rehab.

Try it for yourself. If you can’t make people see the benefits, try incorporating the dis-benefits if they fail to take action.

It doesn’t mean that you will become a prophet of doom and gloom, but it does mean you can start getting colleagues and customers to act according to what truly motivates them.

Feel free to give me a call to discuss carrots and sticks in more detail.

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