I often puzzle over what sort of things motivate others. During my time as a graduate student at USF, I had the good fortunate to have to study the management theory of a fellow called Victor Vroom, whose main interests were in how people could be motivated better. During my time as a graduate student in management it was a bit shocking to me to see how commonly it was understood that most companies did a terrible job at motivating their employees. Of course, there are many motivational theories out there, and most of them recognize that human beings have many motivations and that some are stronger than others, and that effective motivation requires personal knowledge as well as some degree of specialization.
A large part of the complexity of dealing with human beings is the tension between our nature and our nurture. We are beings with great potentialities, but with certain natural warps and proclivities. That is to say, we have internal biases for and against certain activities and behaviors from the start, but we also have capacities for learning and growth. We must neither remain slaves to our natures, for we must struggle to transcend our limitations, or at least to counteract them in some fashion, nor blithely believe as if we are a tabula rasa that can be completely created from scratch, Pygmalion-like. Both of these temptations, to the right hand or to the left, are very strong temptations.
It is easy to multiply examples. Some people are motivated by money, others are largely indifferent to it. Some are motivated by honor and glory, and others are afraid of attention and too shy to seek attention, or to appreciate it. Some people are motivated by fear, others tend to react rather negatively to those who attempt to bully or tyrannize them and are provoked to rebellion. A wise person, in seeking to motivate others, must understand the nature of the person or people he or she is trying to motivate to know what carrots and sticks motivate others. But the same thing is true of us also, and others can skillfully understand such matters if they wish to motivate us in a particular way. Our nature lies open like a book if we are candid and open.
But we have a problem when we think only in carrot and stick. After all, we motivate a donkey by carrot and stick. We beat it if it is a lazy mule and we feed it a carrot if it is a hardworking and friendly donkey (like the donkeys of Petra). But we have a danger when we think of people as being motivated only by carrot and stick. We think of ourselves as the master and of others as animals who are by circumstances bound to accept our will. Now certainly, the histories and circumstances of people are important. But we are all people. In seeking only to manipulate people to do our wills, either by bribery of some kind (carrot) or force (stick), we deny the humanity of those we seek to control and manipulate.
And this is a grave danger, the forbidden fruit of management. Management theories for decades have recognized that the management styles practiced most often are barbaric and tyrannical and unjust, the same sort of behavior that prompted the United States to rebel against its imperial masters in defense of our own dignity. Sadly, though, we forgot the universal implications of the rights we fought for so strenuously, forgetting that they belonged to all mankind and not to ourselves alone. In denying the humanity and dignity of others, we become the oppressors we loathe so deeply.
But there is a fundamental weakness in most management theories. In fact, there are several fundamental weaknesses. For one, those theories (like that of Vroom) which are so elegant and so obvious and so self-evident in theory are also extremely elusive and rare in practice. They are rare because we tend to act as tyrants when we are made to be managers or supervisors or executives. We are corrupted by power, just like the authorities we rebel against and complain about and sabotage through our own malingering. In short, when others treat us like donkeys we respond like stubborn mules, but when we are given the whip hand we tend to treat others like donkeys and act surprised that others are behaving in such a lazy and shirking manner.
Another major failing is that enlightened theories of motivation and management fail to connect different but similar insights together. For example, there is a profound connection between management theory and political ideology as well as religion (and certainly many other subjects that are interrelated as well). There is a strong correlation between modern management theory from Maslow and Vroom and others and the doctrines of biblical leadership, but this connection is largely ignored because most of those who claim obedience to biblical ways are (perhaps deliberately) ignorant of academic matters, just as most academics and theorists seem equally hostile to biblical insights. Those who do seek to blend the two realms, like Maxwell, are generally shallow in their insights on both levels, leaving the deeper insights unrecognized in either realm.
And there is still yet another failing that is connected with this one. Management theories underestimate the tenacity of the evil and satanic ‘carrot and stick’ models of management within institutions, and do not include as part of their instruction a genuine and real understanding of how tenaciously one must fight to build godly institutions. The problem is a simple one. The business world seems largely divided between fairly anarchical entrepreneurs who wish to escape the tyranny of working for anyone else but don’t have any sort of understanding of godly order either in the political or the management or the religious realms. Thus they tend toward being entrepreneurs and libertarians. On the other hand, those who glory in climbing the corporate ladder often show the satanic authoritarian model of governing which tends to lead to their support of similarly authoritarian governments in church and state, which is grossly wicked and unbiblical.
To notice this problem is easy, to solve it is less simple. To avoid falling into either anarchy or tyranny, it is necessary to build ‘constitutional’ forms of government in institutions like businesses, families, churches, and communities. To do this requires both an active and responsible populace as well as leadership whose focus is less on personal glory and benefit and more on godly service. There is little understanding of how such organizations are to be made, since they are extremely difficult to find, since those who seek to escape domination by bosses do not generally seek to create a new godly order to replace the existing satanic one, but rather seek a private escape route for themselves and tend to view those who have little to no tolerance for disorder or anarchy as somehow lesser in character because of their disinclination to become entrepreneurs.
But how does one create such godly systems of governance that serve the well being of others, protect and defend the powerless, are just and fair and orderly and also free. Rigid rules alone are not sufficient, because different circumstances require flexibility on a tactical level, customization on the personal level to suit the specific people involved, but have a clear and focused and unvarying vision for the future. Moreover, it requires the humility to see that we who lead are not God, and the respect to see that those whom we lead are not donkeys to be beaten with sticks or bribed with carrots. We must be competent at leading and organizing and planning and directing but also compassionate to deal with the personal fears and weaknesses and issues that prevent people from performing their best, just as they have to work competently and also be compassionate with our weaknesses and issues as leaders.
But if we want to live in a just order, we must create it, for all that is around us is corrupt and exploitative or chaos and confusion. God is neither a God of tyranny nor a God of confusion, but of both freedom and order in ways that are elusive for those of us who seek to follow His ways. May it be on earth as it is in heaven, and may we receive the help and guidance we need to create a just and godly order, and not profane the name of God by either being disorderly and anarchical or being tyrannical and unjust in our dealings with others. For the stakes are too high for us to fall into either of the ditches at the right or the left hand. The road is narrow and straight, and few find it. God willing, let us be among that company.