Carrots and Sticks

By Edward F. DeRoche, Ph.D.

As part of my summer reading, in addition to reading several James Patterson books, I read EXCEPTION to the RULE because the sub-head caught my attention:  The Surprising Science of Character-Based Culture, Engagement, and Performance.

The authors also captured my attention when they wrote:  “Naming this book Exception to the Rule, we aim to offer a virtue-based approach that challenges the traditional carrot-and-stick paradigm.” (Rea, Stoller, Kolp—McGraw Hill, 2018)

WHAT?  My career experiences as a teacher and administrator clearly made the case that “carrots and sticks” were our modus-operandi in the classroom and school.  “C&S” were used by parents that I knew, (myself included), and community and professional groups that I served on including two terms on a public school board.  “Rewards and punishments” helped us solve problems and make decisions. 

In the book, the authors warn us that “carrots and sticks” will only take us so far—“they do not inspire high performance.  Rules, rewards, and recognitions do not promote excellence.”  I did not know that!  Did you?

But wait, there’s more.  “Teachers and administrators have to understand that a virtue-based school culture (virtue means ‘excellence’) is more powerful than a rule-based culture.”

Here are a few of their views that they want us to think about (implement):

  • “Character and virtues move us beyond our personal needs.  One of the clearest benefits of developing virtues in organizations is increased engagement.”  
  • Character defined by virtue cannot be legislated but can be cultivated.  A virtue-based culture acts as a silent supervisor to mitigate risk without the intended consequence of squashing creativity and growth.”
  • “An extrinsic rule-based approach to ethics (sticks) and extrinsic rewards, recognition (carrots) does not promote excellence.” 
  • Trust and meaningful relationships are more important than intrinsic rewards and recognition.“

What’s wrong with “sticks,” they ask?   Compliance, they answer. 

Making people “comply” is costly both in time and money.  Their examples:  

  • Special education teachers spend 75% of their time in paperwork and meetings in order to comply with well-intended federal legislation….”
  • ”Rules have there place.  What is missing is an understanding of the limitations of rules.”
  • “Heavy-handed rules restrict innovations and creativity.” 

Now the “carrots.” 

The authors start with Engagement-discretionary effort—what people will do when they don’t absolutely have to and when no one is watching or measuring.  Engagement drives performance.” 

The point:  “Excellent leaders and teams are not governed.  They are self-governed more by virtues than by rules” and “fewer rules means that trust is high.” 

In the “ roadmap” for the book, the authors describe the “pillars,” seven specific virtues, a chapter for each.  They discuss what each is, how each works, and how each can be developed to support “a life well lived, with integrity.”  

  1. Trust
  2. Compassion
  3. Courage
  4. Justice
  5. Wisdom
  6. Temperance
  7. Hope—that support the “pediment”
  8. Integrity 

Under the heading, “When Virtue Is Absent,” the authors frame their comments by putting “vice on trial” rather than “virtue.”  What happens to our relationship, they ask, when virtues are missing—“Without trust—what?  Without compassion—what?”  And so on.

So their question isn’t “can we teach virtue?”  Rather, the real question is: “How can we teach virtue better?

Edward DeRoche, Ph.D., Director
Character Education Resource Center
Department of Learning & Teaching // University of San Diego
Website:  http:/
August 2022 BLOG