There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does, and we’re sick of carrots and sticks.

‘Here’s what science knows:

  1. The 20th century rewards, the motivators that we think are a natural part of business, do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.
  2. Those “if, then” rewards often destroy creativity
  3. The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments but that unseen intrinsic drive, the drive to do things for their own sake, the drive to do things because they matter.

If we repair this mismatch between what science knows and what business does. If we bring our notions of motivations into the 21st century. If we get past this lazy, dangerous, ideology of carrots and sticks. We can strengthen our businesses.’
– Pink, 2009

When I first joined the military, I was exposed to the military definition of leadership:

‘The process of influencing others to gain their willing consent in the ethical pursuit of missions.’
– Executive Series Leadership ADDP 00.6, edition 2

Seventeen at the time and unsure of what exactly was going on, I couldn’t even begin to fathom how anyone would go about gaining ‘wilful consent’ over anyone. Since then, the leadership publication has been updated to edition 3 and the current definition is ‘the art of positively influencing others to get the job done’ (ADF-P-0 ADF Leadership). However, both definitions still involve the underlining concept of influence. Over the years the military has provided plenty of training on how to plan and execute ‘the ethical pursuit of missions’ part of this definition, but its education on the wilful compliance part has been limited. At the Junior Non-Commissioned Officer (JNCO) level, the Warrant Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer Academy provides lessons on leadership and discusses different type of leaders. If you’re able to navigate the DPN effectively you’ll find the Leadership ADDP (or the now ADP-P-0) which outlines the ten principles of leadership. And if you walk around any unit on any day, at any time, you’ll hear the familiar leadership teaching of ‘just look out for your team.’

After all this training and development I still struggled with the concept of exactly how to gain wilful compliance. I am a firm believer that individuals will do a task better when they want to do the task as opposed to being forced into doing it. So, how do you motivate individuals to want to work towards your end state?

Firstly, I looked at the concept of motivation, what it is and why some people can be significantly more motivated than others. I work with a JNCO that runs 80km a week regardless of the unit’s workload or weather conditions. Yet some soldiers struggle to cover the required 2.4km twice a year and are terrified when I stand in front of them holding a clipboard. I’ve witnessed a solider spend an hour straight ‘dry repping’ presenting a Maximi from the low ready onto target and perfecting his foot positioning when pivoting on a turn, while others are seemingly less inclined to do more than the bare minimum required of them.

My initial understanding around motivation was that people were either ‘intrinsically’ or ‘extrinsically’ motivated. People are either a self-starter or require encouragement from others to get a job done. It turns out that this was a very juvenile understanding of motivation. Extrinsic motivation has received some negative reviews due to the quality of the end state that it appears to generate. A ‘reward vs punishment’ approach to motivation has been found to be the second-rate strategy for anything outside of very basic problem sets (Hills, 2021).

Current literature and the Self-Determination Theory – the theory that links motivation, performance, and wellness within organisations – maintains that extrinsic motivation is still effective and proceeds to break it down further into four forms of external regulation: introjected regulation, identified regulation, and integrated regulation (Deci, Olafsen and Ryan, 2017). On the other side to this coin, we have intrinsic motivation which is motivation that requires no external stimulus.

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is a type of autonomous motivation that occurs as a result of the task generating internal rewards. The motivation to conduct the task arises from positive feelings associated from completing the task, and the task alone (Wasserman & Wasserman, 2020). PTE Joe Bloggs doing 5 reps of 100kg on bench press because he loves doing 5 reps of 100kg on bench press is an example of intrinsic motivation. This act gives him positive feelings, he wants to feel positive, so he does the exercise.

Extrinsic Motivation

External Regulation. External regulation is a form of extrinsic motivation that comes the closest to the ‘carrot and stick’ model. This motivation stems from, and relies on, external stimulus. This could be in forms such as a monetary reward or the avoidance of punishment. With external regulation, the task is only completed because the external stimulus is offered (Manger, Hetland, Jones, Eikeland & Asbjørnsen, 2020). Looking at PTE Joe Bloggs’ situation through an external regulation lens, it would be like telling him that you’ll give him $50 if he does those reps. A more familiar Army example might be ‘work through lunch and you’ll get an early knock.’

Introjected Regulation. Introjected regulation starts moving towards the autonomous end of the scale. Introjected regulation is motivation built around recognition and status, and is drawn from seeking the approval, or avoiding the disapproval, of superiors (Zhang, Zhang, Song & Gong, 2016). Circling back to our example, it would look like Joe being motivated to do his bench press reps as his boss is there watching and Joe is trying to impress them.

Identified Regulation. Identified regulation occurs when individuals identify the importance and value of their own work and are motivated to self-regulate their efforts (Barton-Weston et al., 2021). This would see Joe bench pressing because he understands that if he does these reps he will soon be able to progressively overload and be able to press 5 reps of 110kg, but this is a goal he has set himself.

Integrated Regulation

Integrated regulation occurs when an individual ‘integrates’ their identifications (be it work, personal, family etc) and streamlines them to be in alignment with their actions. Activities occur because their importance is recognised but also because the activities are affiliated with the individual’s own values (Pelletier, Tuson & Haddad, 1997). With our example Joe understands that soldiers need to be physically robust, but he also enjoys staying fit in his own life. He’s training in the gym to increase his physical capacity as a solider; however, this is nested within his own personal values.

Now, we can’t just slap a label on someone and say that they can only be motivated in one manner or another. Individuals’ motivations are going to eb and flow based on a multitude of factors including the type of task and the group around them. However, I argue that the greatest impact on an individual’s motivation is the leader and the method of motivation being employed.

It is well established that multiple ‘types’ of leadership exist (Chammas & Hernandez, 2019; ‘Learning to lead’, 2020; Lindgreen, Palmer, Wetzels & Antioco, 2008). In fact, the now dated second edition of the Leadership ADDP outlines six different leadership styles (coercive, authoritative, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting and coaching). The more updated edition discusses leadership as a concept that’s contextual, dependant on the situation and is built on a sliding scale balancing task, individual and team needs. Leadership is definitely contextual; however, the concept of leadership styles (as outlined in the Executive Series Leadership ADDP 00.6, edition 2) cannot be discounted. The three leadership styles that I want to draw focus to is transactional, transformational, and charismatic.

Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership is based around some form of exchange between superior and subordinate. The leader dictates expectations and outlines rewards if expectations are met. This could be in the form of a reward or punitive in nature. This form of leadership relies on external stimulus for success and involves an exchange for tasks to be completed. Familiar examples include getting days in lieu for working a Christmas guard, or ‘if you do this it’ll look really good on your PAR.’

Transformational Leadership

With transformational leadership, the leader conveys an end state that is favourable for all members of the group. This generates buy-in and as a result, followers put their personal interests aside to work towards the desired end state that the leader has portrayed (Anderson & Sun, 2015). It is well accepted that transformational leadership is made up of the following four dimensions:

Idealised influence – refers to leaders who foster trust and respect and serve as idealized role models for their followers.

Inspirational motivation – relates to leaders who motivate and challenge their followers by displaying enthusiasm, articulating a compelling vision, and providing meaning to their followers’ tasks.

Intellectual stimulation – is demonstrated by facilitating followers’ efforts to be creative and innovative.

Individualised consideration – refers to leaders who display genuine care and concern for their followers’ personal development and achievement.

Charismatic Leadership

Charismatic leadership is characterised by a direct linkage between followership and the individual leader, not the task itself. In this style of leadership, the follower is dependent on the leader and works for them, as a result the leader has a significant amount of influence over the follower.

Transactional leaders naturally lean towards the ‘carrot and stick’ approach to motivation that requires no autonomy from those that they are leading. Individuals that are motivated by external regulation respond best to this leadership style. In 2021, a study was conducted to observe the impact leadership behaviours had on athlete motivation. Through the use of a questionnaire, the researchers asked a serious of questions to a cross section of 223 elite youth athletes at high schools in Madrid. A linear relationship was identified between transactional leadership and external regulation (Subijana, Martin, Tejón & Côté, 2021).

In my own experience within the military, transactional leadership is a common occurrence. Normally wielded by those that have been given sanctioned authority (or command) by the military rank structure, but in reality have a limited capacity to generate any ‘wilful compliance’. Promises such as ‘an early knock’ are therefore often used to motivate soldiers to conduct tasks. These promises do work; however, soldiers will invariably carry out the exact task and no more. No initiative will be used to conduct implied tasks. And the end results, albeit at standard, are unremarkable.

Leadership styles, such as transformational, that orientate followers to the task and utilise the desired end-state to drive work rate are best suited to individuals that are motivated through integrated and identified regulation and those that are intrinsically motivated. In 2020 Endriulaitienė and Morkevičiūtė conducted a study to explore the indirect effect that transformational leadership had on work motivation in employees. 250 employees were questioned and the results reflected that transformational leadership increased work motivation in employees. However, a negative side effect of this leadership style was that it created a workaholism trend.

These findings are corroborated by the study conducted by Subijana et al. in 2021. In their study on elite sporting youth, the authors also identified that the ‘correlation between intrinsic motivation and transformational leadership was higher than other correlation’ (Subijana et al, 2021). In a military context I have seen transformational leadership been used effectively at the junior officer level (by two in particular) and at the JNCO level by leaders that demonstrated a high level of skill competence. Platoon commanders who enable autonomy for their JNCOs, and JNCOs who delegated tasks to individual specialists and provide them a safe environment to be successful or to fail, harness the transformational leadership techniques of idealised influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualised consideration.

Individuals that are motivated through the concept of recognition or status, such as introjected regulation, are drawn to leaders that harness charismatic leadership. Shamir, House and Arthur (1993) suggest that ‘charismatic leadership highlights such effects as emotional attachment to the leader on the part of the followers.’ They go on to summarise the research surrounding charismatic leadership at the time and present the verdict that charismatic leaders ‘have more satisfied and highly motivated followers.’ The link suggests that the motivated and satisfied followers are caused as a result of the emotional attachment they have to the leader, not the task or mission.

This is a leadership style that I have rarely seen in my career. The military is mission focused with a high employee turnover. Teams are always mission focused and never reliant upon one leader. I have seen charismatic leaders evoke an emotional response in subordinates; however, it is always in a pursuit of a higher order mission and never for the leader’s own ends. Furthermore, this leadership style is limited within a military context as the leadership hierarchy is constantly changing. Officers and JNCOs may lead a specific team for a maximum of twelve months, often significantly less. If charismatic leadership was to be relied upon, then the team and individual motivation would suffer when the leader rotates, either internally within the unit or to an external unit. Instead, military leadership is built more upon the transformational approach of mission and end-state focused.

Early on in my career one of my first platoon commanders said:

‘You’re not going to like everything I do or every decision I make. What I want you to do is take the things you like about my leadership and put them in your toolbox; for use when you’re in a leadership position. The things you don’t like about my leadership, don’t put them in your toolbox, but try to understand my decisions from a professional standpoint not a personal one.’

As leaders we are responsible for the men and women that we lead. We owe it to them to constantly reflect on who we are as a person, soldier, and leader. If we aren’t in the constant pursuit of excellence, then we aren’t doing the right thing by those that we lead. We’re not personifying what we expect of those that follow us. As an organisation we rely far too heavily on transactional leadership and are ignorant to the follow-on effects and just how much it hamstrings our soldiers. The ‘drip rifle’ invented by Lance Corporal W.C. Scurry and Private A. H. Lawrence at Gallipoli, the resourcefulness of Sergeant Geoff Hunt in Tobruk – history has shown time and time again that creative solutions can become the turning point in conflicts. We need to understand how motivation works, lead effectively, and set the conditions to enable our soldiers to generate creative solutions.

‘If we get past this lazy, dangerous, ideology of carrots and sticks. We can strengthen our businesses’