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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


The leader preened, postured and pontificated in front of his staff. “This is my company and we’re going to do things my way! It’s just tough luck for anybody who doesn’t like the new time clock. You guys should be ashamed of coming in here late and leaving early. Anyone caught not clocking in and out every day will be fired on the spot!”

The follower seethed inside while smiling at his leader. “I’ll get even with that arrogant jerk one day. If he thinks that I’m going to keep kissing up to get ahead in this team, then he’s got another think coming. If his plan for this team is such a good one, then why does he feel the need to punish and shame anyone who doesn’t agree with it? How can I respect and follow someone who thinks the best way to motivate people is negatively through fear and humiliation? What a cretin!”

What a revelation! If you think about it, there are only three ways to change human behavior, and only one really works long term. The ways are:

1) coercion

2) peer pressure

3) enlightened self-interest.

Coercion (punishment or the threat of it; e.g., “I’ll kick you off the team,” or “I’ll fire you”) only elicits behavior change in the form of temporary compliance from the other person. You have to invest a lot of energy in intimidating them and keeping them scared to continue the behavior change; i.e. see “continuous bullying.” It’s just plain hard work, and you will buy yourself a lot of resentment and passive-aggressive lack of cooperation over the long term.

Peer pressure (shaming someone, e.g.; “You should be ashamed of coming in later than 9 am or leaving earlier than 5 pm. What’s wrong with you? You’re just lazy.”). Ditto on investing a lot of time and energy in continuing to shame and humiliate the other person to continue the behavior change—more hard work; i.e. also see “continuous bullying.” In addition to buying yourself resentment and passive-aggressive lack of cooperation over the long term, you can destroy the other person’s self-confidence and self-directedness, the very qualities you need in him/her to create a high-performance team.

Enlightened self-interest (doing what is in your long term best interests; e.g. “I’m going to spend some of my time coaching Susan to be more successful because I know she can make a huge contribution to the success of my team and we’ll all do better together than separately.”) elicits permanent behavior change because the other person is doing something that benefits them. Why wouldn’t someone continue a behavior that is in their long term best interests? It’s the healthiest and most powerful motivation on the planet!

I patently disagree with the person who said “There is no ‘I’ in team. This is some of the worst management advice dispensed in recent times. Of course, there is an “I” in team; you have a whole room full of “I’s” who understand that it is in their long term best interests to create a high level of teamwork with others.

I hope it is self-evident that you want your team members to be self-confident and self-directed. Otherwise, you will spend an inordinate amount of your leadership time managing, coercing, or pressuring them to try to “motivate” them.

Would you prefer to have a bunch of timid automatons who can’t think for themselves on your team? The coercion and peer pressure techniques often indicate a leader’s unrealistic fears of losing control and/or lack of sufficient knowledge or self-confidence. He/she usually needs help addressing these first before being able to motivate people effectively with enlightened self-interest.


Technique #1: If you want lasting behavior change from another person, find a way to appeal to his/her enlightened self-interest.

Technique #2: While occasionally necessary, use punishment/coercion to motivate another person as sparingly as possible. If you’re using it a lot, you need either to improve your skills or to get some different people.

Technique #3: Never use peer pressure/shame/humiliation techniques to motivate another person. These methods destroy self-confidence and self-directedness, the very qualities you need in your team members to build a high-performance team.

Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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