I found myself doing something this past Sunday in Bible class that I haven’t done in a long time. I used guilt as a motivator. When I am trying to motivate people to action my view has been to tell them what it is and why it is important and hopefully they will come. We had an event last week to serve at the Ronald McDonald House and we almost had to cancel it due to lack of involvement. It was advertised. It was explained just how important it was but people didn’t come. The next day, Sunday, the thought just kept jumping into my mind during Bible class, “Why didn’t they come?” It just wouldn’t leave me alone. I told myself to not say anything and to not guilt people but I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I finally spoke up in class and said something like, “Maybe it is time we did some evaluating of where we are at as individuals. We talk about good things to do and serving others but here we had opportunity, 80 people were emailed, and hardly anyone came. We are all busy people. I get that. If you had a legitimate reason not to come then I am not talking to you. But for the rest of our group, what kept you from being there?” It was awkward. I didn’t like saying it. I don’t like guilting people but that’s really what I was doing.
A couple of thoughts in retrospect. First is I think guilt was used for so long and in such an unhealthy manner that we swung over to love and grace as our primary motivators. That is a very good and healthy move. But is there a place for guilt as a motivator? I am really torn on this one. I think God gives us the feeling of guilt and it is a legitimate feeling. But there is a difference between and individual feeling guilty over something and a leader influencing people to feel guilty in order to move them in a particular direction. As leaders, manipulation (by guilt or other means) should not be one of the tools of the trade. There is a healthier route.
Why is guilt so attractive? Guilt is attractive because its results are pretty immediate. It convicts. It calls for change. You can get people to do things way faster and to a much more extreme level through guilt than you can by any other means. That doesn’t mean it is the right way to motivate but it is effective. Here is where I have landed on this one as of right now. Guilt is effective but it is not the best and healthiest way to move people to action. The healthy path takes work. The guilty path is effortless and really a cop-out on the part of the leader. A leader who uses guilt as a motivator is lazy at best because it says they aren’t really willing to do the hard work of changing hearts and maturing the faith of those you influence so that they are willing and ready to move when the opportunity arises.
How do you see guilt in relation to leadership. Is there ever a place for it? If so, when?