Guilt is not a Motivator

Vanessa and I were in the car riding home the other day. As is often the case, leadership conversations were filling the space between us and passing the time. I am sharpened by many friends and leaders God has placed around me. But Vanessa is by far the best leadership sharpening stone in my life.

We were discussing the usage of guilt, by some leaders, as a motivational tool. Such a leader will, at times, make a team member feel guilty about underperformance or bad decisions. Only weak leaders employ this approach. They exploit positional influence by demanding, degrading, and debasing those under their leadership. They see people as a means to an end – a necessary commodity toward the accomplishment of a goal. Guilting and shaming those under one’s leadership, for any reason, is a gross misusage of positional influence. Guilt widens the expanse between leader and follower. Guilt separates and destroys more than it could ever reconcile and rebuild.

I have never understood it. “Guilt is the worst motivator,” I said. Vanessa responded with a wisdom for which I was not quite prepared: “Guilt is not a motivator. Guilt is a manipulator.”

Mic Drop.

"Guilt is not a motivator. Guilt is a manipulator." – @vrwolfe Click To Tweet

Using guilt to twist someone’s mind or heart into conformity is not a gift from God. It is an abhorrent manipulation of another’s soul, ultimately exposing a dangerous weakness in the leader who is employing it. When teams underperform, it is never because they don’t feel guilty enough. A little more guilt will not motivate your underperforming team. It may manipulate them for a season to get a desired result, but in the long run it will only produce broken spirits, a poor work ethic, and lowered self-actualization in the workplace. Guilting your team members may yield a short-term accomplishment, but it will never produce a long-term win.

"Guilting your team members may yield a short-term accomplishment, but it will never produce a long-term win." Click To Tweet

A true motivator is encouragement. It has been said that “people don’t do what you expect, they do what you inspect.” This is true on some level. But if you’re going to take your leadership to the next level, then try this one on for size instead: “People don’t do what you expect, they do what you celebrate.”

Find things to celebrate on your team. Be an intentional encourager with regard to work practices, home life, hobbies, and continuing education. Be the leader who knows your team members well, prays for them regularly, and encourages them openly. Then, when correction must come (privately and appropriately of course), there exists an emotional bank full of encouragement from which to withdraw.

Guilt destroys.
Encouragement builds.
Guilt separates.
Encouragement reconciles.
Guilt embarrasses.
Encouragement empowers.
Guilt manipulates.
Encouragement motivates.

Grace and Peace,

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