How a Jackass Manager Treats People

In many organizations, the typical approach to changing people’s behavior is to reward or threaten them. This is what Stephen R. Covey called “the great jackass theory of human motivation—carrot and stick.”

The problem with this approach is that it treats people like animals, and it works only on the surface and only temporarily. When people who are threatened they develop a paradigm of fear, and so they act out of fear. They will “work” for an organization, but they will never give their hearts. They will never speak honestly, contribute freely, or do more than required. They will never, ever tell you what they really think.

They will be motivated all right—motivated to evade responsibility—but they will never be inspired. In today’s workplace, all too many workers are afraid, and they act like it. They take little initiative, they avoid responsibility, they keep their thoughts to themselves—they bring as little as possible to the table so they won’t get in trouble. This is the legacy of the Industrial Age. You will never capture people’s hearts by treating them like jackasses—but that’s how many managers lead.

If you want to avoid the jackass approach to leadership, recognize that every employee is unique, capable, and has amazing potential. Your job is to help them see the potential in themselves and create an environment where they are trusted, doing meaningful work, and winning.

Here are a couple of questions to consider:

  • What are the most recent ‘incentives’ that you put into place? How did you go about creating them? Do your people truly value them or are they things that you think they value, but don’t know for sure?
  • Are people in your organization operating from a position of compliance or commitment? How do you know?
  • When was the last time you coached a team member – not took the work from them and did yourself, but truly coached them? What did you learn from the process?
  • How might you better unleash the talent of your people?

I wish you all the best as you work to lead, develop, and grow your people. Leadership is a choice and a privilege – make sure you’re treating it that way.


Photo by Bill Hamway on Unsplash