By Craig Perrin
Craig is AchieveGlobal’s Senior Product Manager, Leadership Portfolio. Since 1986, he has helped develop many of AchieveGlobal’s performance improvement solutions.
While “getting work done through others” may have merit as a baseline definition of leadership, it says nothing about how effective leaders sustain high performance and strong business results.
Or so they seem.
Consider a recent Yale study that confirmed this unsettling fact: external motivators actually undermine long-term effort and success in both low and high performers. This finding supports 30 years of related research, as well as the daily experience of thoughtful leaders, likely since ancient Egyptian times. Yet today, that truth is neither widely accepted nor often applied.
Over-reliance on external motivators may help explain the results of a recent AchieveGlobal poll. We asked, “Which is the more difficult leadership challenge, improving a low performer or inspiring a high performer?” Here’s what respondents said:
An intriguing point here: leaders struggle, if not equally, with both groups. Perhaps the sixty-six percent rely too often on threats, and the thirty-four percent rely too often on rewards. If it’s true that external motivators bring short-term gains, it’s also true that performance drops when a threat fades or a reward is achieved.
In fact, most high performers are not primarily motivated by threats or incentives. Instead, they strive to satisfy three deeply human needs: to apply their skills, connect with others, and guide their own actions. What some leaders fail to see is that every employee – every human being – has these same needs.
So, to improve long-term effort and achievement in both high and low performers, a leader is well advised to develop their talents, encourage their collaboration, and offer them choices.
Learn more about how AchieveGlobal transforms organizational performance by engaging a diverse workforce and activating change and innovation.