Positive and Negative Reinforcement in Leadership Styles

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Positive and Negative Reinforcement in Leadership Styles

This paper highlights several different reinforcement styles in leadership designed to motivate employees to achieve goals successfully. Positive reinforcement (sometimes called a reward system or compensation system) can involve the use of rewards, such as pay increases, various incentives or recognition, as a motivator. Negative reinforcement will sometimes use scare tactics or abuse, such as public humiliation or the threat of a demotion, to push employees in certain directions. This paper will explore both styles, and the pros and cons of each. It will also look into how the two leadership styles can be used in conjunction with one another to modify behavior patterns in employees. Positive and Negative Reinforcement in Leadership Styles

There are many different types of managers in today's world, and each motivates their team of employees in his or her own particular way. Roberto (2011) suggests that “fundamentally, leadership is about transforming people in an organization and leading them to higher performance as a result”. Most often, leaders attempt to transform their employees and achieve these higher results by utilizing one of two different strategies: positive or negative reinforcement. Both reinforcement styles have their advantages, certainly; likewise, both methods have certain drawbacks as well. This paper will examine the advantages and disadvantages of both positive and negative reinforcement. The first leadership style, positive reinforcement, can come in a variety of different packages, and can be utilized in many different ways. Motivators such as an increase in pay, recognition, and a promotion are typical rewards found in many workplaces. Keller and Szilagyi (1976) report that rewards such as these listed above are significantly related to employee satisfaction in the workplace. Pay increases and promotions provide extrinsic incentives for employees, something the employee can physically show for their hard earned work. As Roberto (2011) advises, these 'pay-for-performance' type rewards can also act to get employees who are not generally high producers more engaged and involved, and can be used to obtain buy-in from those who are not keen to accept a change in a system that may be well known and liked. Recognition for a job well done is an intrinsic reward, an internal feeling of accomplishment. Many times, a simple “thank you” to an employee can go further than a tangible payment, as it gives them a sense of value, lets them know they are an asset and that their deeds are not going unnoticed, and can boost overall morale among employees. In fact, Buchanan and Huczynski (2001) report that the relationships between performance and intrinsic reward are usually more immediate and direct than those between performance and extrinsic reward. Whether intrinsic or extrinsic, a reward system of some sort in place can provide for a competitive, high-producing work environment. While incentives can be an excellent motivator, if abused or given too freely, they can also be a detriment, as most people care about fairness and equality in the workplace. For example, if a manager offers praise regularly to employees for merely doing their job, rather than reserving it for instances where someone goes above and beyond the objectives put forth in their job descriptions, this could eventually have a negative affect in the workplace. In these instances, individuals meeting only the minimum requirements of their particular job are offered the same recognition as those who strive to put forth a superior product, which can result in complacency and an inconsistency in employee performance. Physical incentives, such as bonuses, gift-cards (or other immediate monetary devices), and prizes can also lead to an increase in undesirable behavior, such as “gaming”, or working the system. In his lectures, Roberto (2011) speaks of gaming as...
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