Breakdown: How to be a Good Motivator – Highlights from “Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) Ch. 9-11

If you are like me, you may never get a chance to read all the books you would like to. There is just not enough time in a single lifetime to absorb it all. That is why I wanted to breakdown “Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) by Alan Loy McGinnis to share the key takeaways that I got out of it.

See the source image

“Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) is a guide to be a good motivator. It provides the reader with 12 principles to bring out the best in people through motivation. The 12 principles are as follows:

  1. Expect the best from people you lead
  2. Make a thorough study of the other person’s needs
  3. Establish high standards for excellence
  4. Create an environment where failure is not fatal
  5. If they are going anywhere near where you want to go, climb on other people’s bandwagons
  6. Employ models to encourage success
  7. Recognize and applaud achievement
  8. Employ a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement
  9. Appeal sparingly to the competitive urge
  10. Place a premium on collaboration
  11. Build into the group an allowance for storms
  12. Take steps to keep your own motivation

In this post, I will break down chapters 9-11. These chapters capture principles 8-10 to bring the best out of people. If you like it, please check out my previous posts capturing chapters 1-8 and look out for another post where I will cover the last two principles.

Chapter 9: When to Praise and When to Reprimand

This chapter highlights principle #8, employ a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement. Here the author emphasizes the need to use more positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement, but there still needs to be elements of both.

The good person in us will cringe at the thought of negative reinforcement. We all had bad experiences with it. However, negative reinforcement does not have to be mean, aggressive or result in a loss of morale.

McGinnis offers the Scorn/Reinstruction Method of negative reinforcement as an example. Using this method, when you see something that was done wrong, say something like “Don’t do it that way, do it this way”. Then you can proceed to show them exactly how it is supposed to be done. It seems reasonable.

McGinnis offers several pieces of advice for giving negative reinforcement:

  1. Teach them to avoid disruptive behaviours. Don’t teach them to avoid you. You still need to be approachable, respectful, and tactful.
  2. Be timely and give negative reinforcement immediately after the bad behaviour. The longer you wait, the less effective the negative reinforcement will be at correcting the behaviour.
  3. Stop any negative reinforcement effects as soon as the poor behaviour stops. If you punish your child for 30 days for a bad behaviour, there is little incentive to change those behaviours quickly because there are still many days of punishment to go.
  4. If negative reinforcement does not work for undesirable behaviours, then use positive reinforcement for any desirable behaviours. Give positive reinforcement for anything other than the bad behaviour. Once the undesirable behavior stops, then begin to withdraw any additional positive reinforcement.

The last thing discussed in the chapter is the use of guilt as a motivator. There are two schools of thought along a spectrum. At the extremes, one perspective is that guilt is not a good motivator, and the other is that guilt is a good motivator. Both schools of thought have some criticisms. Guilt is a valid emotion for people to have. So, who are we to say it is wrong to feel? On the other hand, if you use guilt against people excessively it can result in disturbed relationships. The bottom line is that leaders should not be there to control people. What we need to do is objectively point out consequences of certain behaviours. It is up to the those you wish to motivate whether they will feel guilty about it.

Chapter 10: The Will to Win

This chapter highlights rule #9, appeal sparingly to the competitive urge. People love a challenge. McGinnis used the exact same example as in Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” to demonstrate this.

There was a series of mills all owned by the same company. One of the mills had very low productivity. When the boss from headquarters came to visit, he asked the manager about it. The manager said that he tried everything to get his staff to work harder and nothing worked. So, at the end of one team’s shift, he asked how many tonnes of steel they produced, they said 4. He took a piece of chalk and wrote 4 on the wall, big and clear where most will see. When the next shift arrived, they asked about the number 4. They were told it was how many tonnes of steel the last crew produced. At the end of their shift, 4 was rubbed off and replaced with a 6. The next day there was a 7, then 8. You get it. The boss gently provided the workers with an opportunity to compete, and they took it. That mill became one of the most productive.

The competition here was not forced, it was only gently encouraged. Healthy competition can boost morale, but remember not to create a competitive arena that accommodates unethical or mean-spirited behaviour.

Chapter 11: How to Get People to Cooperate with Each Other

Chapter 11 highlights rule #10, place a premium on collaboration. It emphasizes that people have a need to belong and are more attracted to high morale teams than even its leadership. So good leadership will go above and beyond to create a good, positive, enthusiastic, and collaborative atmosphere. This will facilitate solidarity and kinship, a sense of pride and loyalty shared by the group, or as the French would say esprit de Corps.

So how do you create esprit de corps? McGinnis provides four suggestions:

  1. Reward cooperation. Some organizations would rather reward individuals for their successes rather than high functioning teams. However, this creates incentives for individuals to exaggerate their successes and downplay their teammates successes. This may facilitate a mean-spirited competition resulting in poor morale and unethical behaviour.
  2. Assign responsibility for cooperation to the team as a whole rather than a project champion, team lead, or other individual member. This makes accountability everyone’s responsibility.
  3. Plan some occasions for the team to travel outside of the office together. When you place a team together outside of the office, an interesting thing happens. They tend become more creative, open to each others’ perspectives, build respect and form bonds with each other. It allows them to see each other as people, rather than just employees. So send them to a conference, resort or something like that to build team comradery.
  4. Do not undervalue good communication. Often times distance and petty arguments between teammates is caused by a misunderstanding or a lack of consideration for each other which can escalate rapidly into a massive grievance.


I hope you liked this breakdown of the key highlights from Alan Loy McGinnis’ “Bringing Out the Best in People”, chapters 9 –11. If you would like more tips on how to be a good motivator, look out for my future posts which will cover more of this material. Or better yet, buy his book!

If you enjoyed this read, please subscribe to my blog, give it a like or follow me on Twitter @interestpeaks. I found this content interesting. But I am more interested in what your thoughts, opinions or advice on motivation are. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or feedback, please share them in the comments section below. I would love to hear them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s