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A Counter-Intuitive Habit Great Leaders Practice

Have you looked around you lately? Our world is full of fear, guilt and anguish. Headlines tell us daily how awful things are, hoping to gain more readers or viewers. This model causes moms and dads to parent out of fear. It causes teachers to motivate out of guilt. And it causes leaders to manipulate team members, using possible negative scenarios to push them to work harder. It’s no wonder so many struggle with depression. Just look at the dread around you.

Let me illustrate.

I just examined a prime example of what I’m talking about: global poverty. We hear politicians talk about poverty, using statistics to make us feel bad in order to garner our votes. After all, poverty is on the rise…isn’t it?

photo credit: Rakesh JV via photopin cc

photo credit: Rakesh JV via photopin cc

The truth is—global poverty is actually on the decline, but most people aren’t even aware of it.

Did you know that, over the past thirty years, the percentage of people in the world who live in extreme poverty has decreased by more than half? If you said “no,” you are not alone. According to a recent Barna Group survey, more than 8 in 10 Americans (84 percent) are unaware global poverty has reduced so drastically. On the contrary, two-thirds (67 percent) say they thought poverty was on the rise over the last three decades.

How does such fatalism affect us?

Good leaders know that eventually, fear and guilt fail as motivators. People eventually cry “uncle” and run out of energy. Instead, good leaders provide doses of harsh reality alongside information that inspires their teams. They give progress reports on the results of the team’s efforts, even if it’s relatively small. This buoy’s the spirit of team members and leads to better performance in the long run. This “progress report” has been proven to actually impart a “second wind” to people.

In short, effective leaders communicate two items:

  1. The Problem: These are the harsh realities we must all face.
    The people realize: This cause requires my best effort.
  1. The Progress: These are the hopeful results we are achieving.
    The people realize: This cause is doable! We can win this thing.

Think about the issue of poverty for a moment. What if everyone reporting on the extreme poverty in our world shared the truth: “We’ve cut poverty in half and believe that if everyone did their part, we could finish the job in the next five years. We could end extreme poverty.” How motivating! How inspiring! How compelling! People would begin to believe that what they do actually matters, that the money or time they give doesn’t slip into a black hole where no one even notices.

So evaluate your motivational style. Do you tend to do what most people do? Incite people to act out of fear, negativity or even guilt? Or do you sprinkle healthy progress reports into your communication, knowing people ultimately do what works?

Try it and see if performance increases.


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Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes



  1. Ric Teal on May 31, 2014 at 6:33 am

    Thanks. Very nice twist. Focus on the positive on what has already been done, instead of negative which we know already. I have always, and I am sure others as well, been suspicious of the same story of doom & gloom.

  2. Cathy on June 1, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Thanks for the insight, I run a NGO with mums and babes in a slum in Manila Philippines! I refuse to use manipulation and fear to motivate people to give! But I sometimes forget to plug the opposite. The need is overwhelming, I get bogged down. We are making a difference, one birth at a time! People love hearing they are. My motto is one birth at a time, I need to plug it more Thanks x

    • Tim Elmore on June 5, 2014 at 7:46 am

      Honored to help. Keep up the good work, Cathy.

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A Counter-Intuitive Habit Great Leaders Practice