One thing is for certain: Three of the more popular methods ”charisma, power, and perks ”don t work very well. They all have the potential to change people s view, and so they all have the potential to change people s behavior. Unfortunately, relying on these heavy-handed methods can be dangerous and rarely sustains behavior over the long run. Yet these methods remain enormously popular. In fact, they hold a nearly sacred place in the current literature. Let s consider each method in turn .
It s time to kill a myth. To be an effective motivator, you don t have to be awe- inspiring . Everyday acts of motivation are almost always subtle, rarely elicit awe, and never make the papers. Nevertheless, the myth of charisma continues to thrive.
Books, television programs, and movies positively ooze with scenes that are designed to make audiences gasp with admiration. For example, in the cold war drama Crimson Tide, we find a naval officer played by Denzel Washington giving a big speech to a young radioman on whose skill and attention hangs the fate of the world.
The poor fellow has to get the submarine s radio up and running to learn if the vessel should launch its missiles. If he fails, the captain will be forced to launch the sub s nuclear arms blindly, cause the enemy to retaliate, and eventually destroy the world ”even though it may not be necessary. ( Sorry. My mistake! )
In the real world the poor fellow probably would collapse from the pressure. In fact, the stress would be so debilitating that a smart leader would be doing everything in his or her power to provide support. But screenwriters are human too. They make the fundamental attribution error by creating a radioman who doesn t need support. He needs to be inspired. Apparently, he hasn t repaired the radio yet because he has something he d rather do than save the world from total destruction.
Denzel delivers a really hot speech. After the tear-jerking performance the radioman turns to his coworker and tells him to stop messing around so that they can prevent a nuclear holocaust instead of playing video games or whatever it is they re doing.
Denzel gives the speech, the radioman is appropriately inspired, and yes, the audience breaks into applause. Charisma makes for good drama; however, it has precious little to do with leadership. Rest assured that you don t have to be charismatic to be influential.
Let s move on to the next big mistake. Raw power, painfully applied, may move bodies, may even get people to act in new ways, but it rarely moves hearts and minds. Hearts and minds are changed through expanded understanding and new realizations. The flagrant and abusive use of authority, in contrast, guarantees little more than short- term bitter compliance.
This simple idea would never have made these pages if not for the fact that parents and leaders alike routinely turn to power as their first tool for motivating others. Without putting it in so many words, they believe that it s easiest to change people s thinking about the existing consequence bundle by administering new and painful consequences of their own. It s a simple enough concept and is very easy to implement. Here s what it sounds like:
If you don t finish the project on time, you re fired !
If you talk back to me like that again, you re grounded until the end of the summer!
Earlier we suggested that we often take a dispositional rather than a situational view of others. If others cause us a great deal of pain, we believe they must be bad to the core . The worse the impact others have on us, the worse our assumptions about their character. We think they re inherently selfish. They may even take joy in our suffering. They re at best indifferent. And here s where it gets sticky: We believe that others are capable only of being selfish. It s in their genes. It s their disposition. It s not a choice; it s a calling.
When it comes to influence strategies, the implication of this dispositional view of people should be obvious. Individuals aren t going to change their personalities through patience and long suffering on our part. They re not going to change their proverbial spots after we give them an inspiring pep talk. In fact, they aren t going to change their inherent and immutable personalities because of anything we say. They can t.
And now for a leap in logic that would break any Evil Knievel record: Since we re dealing with deep-seated personality flaws, we have to use threats. Remember those teenagers who took your parking space? Oh yeah, they ll pay. Remember that plywood employee who was sent to the hospital? He deserved it. It wasn t the supervisor s fault that the guy wouldn t respond to logic.
What does all this chest beating come down to? Let s take it as a warning. The more we feel the need to apply force, the greater is the evidence that our own thoughts are the problem. To quote Seinfeld s George Costanza, It s not them, it s us.
Of course, it s tarts with them when they aren t motivated. We try and try, and nothing works. And then we become angry . We convince ourselves that we need to use power to solve the problem, and we enjoy doing it. That s because we re thinking with our dumbed-down, adrenaline -fed lizard brains .
Warning lights should go off every time we feel compelled to reach into our bag of influence tools and pull out a hammer : If we don t catch ourselves before it s too late, we ll pay.
Every time we decide to use our power to influence others, particularly if we re gleeful and hasty, we damage the relationship. We move from enjoying a healthy partnership based on trust and mutual respect to establishing a police state that requires constant monitoring.
Every time we compel people to bend to our will it creates a desolate and lonely work environment. Gone is mutual respect and the camaraderie it engenders. Gone are the simple pleasantries associated with rubbing shoulders with colleagues who admire and pull for each other. Gone is the sense that we re laboring together to overcome common barriers.
It s a horrible thing we do when we decide to routinely unleash our power as a way of motivating. When we do, our relationship with others is forever changed. We move from respected partner to feared enforcer. And then we pay.
When we quickly move to use force to influence change, people intuitively understand that we do that because we believe they have bad motives. We don t respect them. In addition, it communicates that we care only about our goals, not theirs. In other words, it destroys safety. And when safety disappears, people immediately become defensive. Eventually they resist our ideas out of principle. Every time we leave the room, we wonder if they ll actually do what we ve asked. By destroying safety, the hasty use of force ensures that force will be needed to solve the problem and that a healthy crucial conversation won t work.
The employees at the plywood mill didn t simply stand by and watch the ambulance haul their friend to the hospital. They got even. Every time they became upset at a supervisor, they took a perfectly good veneer and threw it into the hog ”a massive grinding machine that transformed expensive wood into cheap sawdust. Productivity took a hit, and supervisors were blamed. How come our numbers are so low? And if the battles continued to rage, numbers dropped even further, the hog got really fat, and the supervisors were dismissed.
Of course, most families and organizations don t have massive hogs lurking in the wings, but people find other ways to strike back. They do what you ask even if it s wrong. They stop giving their best effort. They spend hours complaining. They lose focus.
Perhaps the largest avoidable cost in every organization is the loss of energy that comes every time someone abuses his or her power.
Back in the mid-1930s, Kurt Lewin, along with several of his colleagues, conducted a fascinating study that forever put to rest the notion that power yields lasting results. The researchers randomly assigned leaders to one of three leadership styles: authoritarian, hands-off, and democratic . The subjects then used their assigned styles to lead a production team. As expected, the authoritarian (power-based) style produced the highest results when the leader was in the room. Also as expected, force yielded the lowest results once the leader left the room.  When people produce solely out of fear, once the fear is removed, so is the motivation to continue to follow orders.
Now for the last of the common motivational errors: the hasty use of extrinsic rewards to motivate what should already be intrinsically motivating. Parents long ago learned not to make this mistake through their failed attempts to reward actions that should be rewarding in and of themselves .
For example, if you want your children to read or, better still, love to read, what s the best way to lure them away from TV programs and video games? More than a few parents have chosen to pay their kids to read. The theory is that if you pay them, they ll read, and if they read, they ll learn to love reading. Unfortunately, extrinsic rewards often kill intrinsic satisfaction. These children learn to read for money, not for reading s sake. Then the minute you remove the cash, they re back at the TV or the video game.
Similarly, if you continually use special perks to encourage people to do what should be a routine part of their jobs, in effect perfuming the consequence bundle, you could be undermining or even destroying the satisfaction that comes from doing the job. It also takes attention away from the legitimate reasons for the work. When they are applied to routine behavior, extrinsic rewards confuse purpose. Special rewards should be reserved for special performance.
 Kurt Lewin, Ron Lippett, and Robert White, Patterns of Aggressive Behaviour in Experimentally Created ˜Social Climates, Journal of Social Psychology 10 (1939), 271 “299.