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How to be a motivational leader - without carrots and sticks

4 min read

How to be a motivational leader - without carrots and sticks

Danielle Wallace of Beyond The Sky provides five techniques that go beyond carrots and sticks to motivate your team in an effective and lasting way.

Many managers, at one time or another, struggle to motivate their team. Getting people to give their best at work can seem like a complicated challenge. Leadership often falls back on over-simplified solutions, such as "carrot" and "stick" approaches. But surely there's more to motivation?

You may be familiar with "carrot" and "stick" approaches, even if you're not familiar with the terminology. A "carrot" approach incentivizes good work with rewards, while a "stick" approach uses punishment to push people towards goals. 

Both of these approaches have drawbacks. They often don't trigger the true motivator of an individual, but play on their desire (carrot) and fear (stick). This can lead to a myriad of issues and often the motivation method is not sustainable. 

Thankfully, there are other ways you can motivate a team. And they're not complicated! In this article, Danielle Wallace of Beyond The Sky (a custom learning service for businesses), provides five techniques to motivate your team in an effective and lasting way. 

Five techniques to be a motivational leader

by Danielle Wallace|originally posted here

At one place I worked, we had an underground term for trying to pin an incident on a person: blamestorming. Rather than seeing accidents as just that – an accident – everything was attributed to who should be punished. Instead of bringing challenges to the forefront, we hid issues for fear of reprisal. This was a classic “stick” culture.

I was relieved when the management changed, and we shifted to a “carrot” culture. However, I soon realized this was no better. We were given incentives such as “If you reach your target, you’ll get a 20% bonus.”  But, did I really feel like helping customers just because it’s on my scorecard and worth an extra smiley point? Even if it corresponds to more money? The answer is no, I didn’t. The truth is, the natural joy I get from delighting others is a more powerful motivator.

So many managers rely on carrot and stick methods to elicit performance from their employees. It’s easy to understand why – anyone can do carrot and stick management. But it’s just not that effective. What really works is appealing to intrinsic motivation – the internal drive that is specific to each person (e.g. recognition, work-life balance, respect, etc.).

Is it possible for you to learn this? Absolutely. Consider these five techniques. 

Lead by example

Have you ever arrived at work late but disliked it when your team wasn’t running on time? Does your team need to answer all correspondence promptly but your schedule precludes you of this standard?

Remember that you set the tone for your team and they will follow your example. So, your naturally respectful demeanour (you’re courteous, right?) will luckily manifest in your team and you’ll reap the behaviours you demonstrate.

Compliment the team on their successes

Many people perform their roles without so much as a “thank you” or “job well done” because many employers believe praise comes in the form of the paycheque.  There are more pressing matters than complimenting people on what they’re already paid to do, right?

However, to maintain team morale, you should appeal to your team’s intrinsic motivators and acknowledge when they exert additional effort or create new solutions. People don’t typically resign to leave the tasks; they leave their managers. Without timely acknowledgement, your team may feel you don’t appreciate them.

Be calm when handling corrections

There’s an old saying that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If you notice an employee accidentally overlooked something that you catch, your reaction will set the tone for how they feel about you.

No matter how stressful your day, try to avoid getting upset and instead calmly discuss the issue. To earn your team’s respect, you’ll need to show them respect even when they’ve made errors.

Listen to your employees

It’s important to hear what your team is telling you – and actually listen. Staying silent while they talk only to recant with your personal message doesn’t count. Pay attention to what they’re saying – ask them questions, look into the ideas they have, and consider their suggestions.

Good leaders listen to the team’s suggestions and consider if it’s worth the time, money, and effort to implement.

Do the job nobody wants to do

Again, you must lead by example. If your goal is to have your employees do something you know they don’t particularly like, try to do it for yourself. While you can assign your employees their tasks, it’s always good to add your name to the list. Employees respect managers who will do something everybody else tries to avoid doing.


To garner your employees’ respect and create an environment that fosters motivation – without carrots or sticks – consider these techniques. While you’ll still need consequences for performance issues and still need to fairly compensate your employees, you won’t have to bribe them to do their job or trade fear for performance. Lead by example, be respectful, and acknowledge your team’s contributions if you want them to follow you.

About Danielle Wallace

Danielle Wallace is the founding partner of Beyond the Sky and specializes in innovative learning solutions to solve complex business challenges. Her thought leadership can be found at www.beyondthesky.ca.

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