To: Business Leaders From: Professor Adrian Furnham

Mike Atack ulf at
Tue Oct 28 07:39:48 GMT 2008

Memo No.2

To: Business Leaders

From:  <> Professor Adrian Furnham of
Understanding Leadership <>  

Subject: Carrot and Stick Management



In the cartoons at any rate, there are (only) two mechanism: to get the
donkey to move forward:
..carrot or stick. Promise of reward; threat of
punishment. Prescriptive versus proscriptive corporate culture.


Ask people if theirs is a carrot or stick culture and they immediately
understand the question and therefore tend to give a quick unequivocal
answer. Which works best? Which is more efficient and effective for business
growth, happiness, sustainability? The usual answer, mostly correct, is
carrot works better than stick. But there are provisos.


Carrot management works best for extraverts in sales and marketing jobs. It
probably works better for young, people, for optimists and for those in the
service industries.


Carrot management tends to be prescriptive. People receive clear guidance
about what attitudes, behaviours and outcomes are desirable and are
constantly rewarded for them. Carrot leaders believe in modelling what they
want and are bent on shaping their staff by constant encouragement when
things are done in the way they want.


Stick management aims to prohibit activities and behaviours that do not fit
the model they are after. Managers aim to use mistakes as exemplars and rely
on negative feedback to inhibit that which they don’t want. Stick managers
often say their style works because it is easy to understand, quick to do,
and “the only thing the staff really understand and accept”.


Of course, in practice, nearly all managers use both. But there does seem to
be a natural preferred approach. Like handedness, in that most of us lean to
the use of the one hand or the other. But is it a case of dextrous carrot
and sinister stick?


Some have argued that it is possible to differentiate carrot and stick
leadership styles which reflect the personal, interpersonal and
organisational approach and culture. But that does have a “four-legs good –
two-legs bad” feel about it.


So the sticks get all the bad words. They are defensive and constraining and
negative. The good guys, our carrot tops, are praised for being
constructive, facilitative and positive. Stick management is top-down,
unilateral, unforgiving while carrot management is more open, more
reciprocal, more hopeful.


Managers have lots to do. Whether or not they spend time and effort in
vision, mission and values stuff, they do have to be clear in what they want
from individuals, groups and departments. People need a sense of direction,
of how things should operate and ideally someone providing an excellent role
model. So carrot managers define, model and reward that which they want.


Stickies tend to be more into damage limitation. They assume people (any
fool) knows what is required and the manager’s job is to prevent them doing
what they don’t want or not doing what they do want. There is, in their view
a “correct way” to do everything and you will be punished until you do it
that way. Amen.


Carrot managers love role models and make examples of those who embody the
spirit of the enterprise. Even the communists knew this and the word
Stakhanovite entered the language as a prototype of heroic Stalinist work
zeal. We might call it workaholic, work-life imbalance, obsessionality. But
that is what the Soviet economy wanted, so they found a hero and blessed


While carrots exemplify, sticks circumscribe. They dismiss, reject, refuse
any ideas for doing things differently. They can be doctrinaire, but always
know about how things should, can, may, not be done.


Carrot leaders believe in help. They go-for coaches, mentors, tutors because
they like the idea of good workers passing on their skills, attitudes and
behaviours. So the best are chosen (and rewarded) for mentoring jobs. It
becomes a badge of honour. They induct, grow, nurture staff concentrating
always, of course, on reward.


Stick managers tend to be a tad Darwinian. They let people learn from
personal experience: sink or swim. Survival of the fittest. They are not so
enthusiastic about all that expensive mentoring palaver. They believe smart
people learn from their mistakes, quickly and cheaply.


And as for creativity, challenging assumptions, lateral thinking? If you are
a sticky, forget it. Your job is rule following. Your elders and betters are
chosen for that task. Challenging approaches is more like insubordination
and disloyalty than being innovative. Carrot leaders, being optimists, tend
to be happy with those offering new ideas.


Organisations have their stories, their myths and their cast.  For the
carrot leader the play is of swashbuckling heroes who exemplify the spirit
of the quest. More Edmund Hillary than Capt Oates. A rejoicing in their
victories, their strengths, their dedication and use of talents.


Stick management seems to wallow in stories of those who “crashed and
burned” who did not “fit in” and who, because they did not follow the rules,
failed to succeed Remember the demise of “old so and so”; recall the fate of
misfits, challengers etc.


Both carrot and stick managers can be, indeed should be, astute monitors of
the performance of their staff. Carrot managers take interest in people.
They look out for examples of excellent and exceptional performance. They
focus on the how, as much as the what is done and try to understand the
process better. And they tend, by definition, to be liberal with praise and
easy with real compliments.


Stick managers are certainly close monitors; some would call it
micromanagement. They are super sensitive to differences deviations and
diversions from the norm. Their feedback verbal and nonverbal is quick,
clear and critical. You only get called to the boss’s office when you have
done something wrong.


Most of us can remember carrot and stick school-teachers. Both might have
helped us secure better grades. But who is it that we remember with grateful
thanks. Carrot teachers inspire by finding out what we are good at.


Over fifty years ago McGregor proposed the difference between managers who
held theory X and those who held theory Y.   The former are optimists who
turn to carrot management because they believe in the Rousseauian image of
inherently intrinsically motivated workers who, if encouraged, will always
give of their best.


Against them are the clear Hobbesians who believe workers are just another
form of animal: selfish, lazy and feckless, who need strict guidance.


But stick managers have clearly never been to a dog show, circus or sea-life
park and watched trainers in action. There are no sticks, but an abundance
of species appropriate carrots. No sticks not even “in extremis”. A dearth
of carrots works better than a multitude of sticks.

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