Motivating Employees Through Warmth vs. Strength

Motivating Employees Through Warmth vs. Strength

A dispute arose between the Wind and the Sun about who was the stronger of the two. They decided to settle the issue by seeing who could convince a passing traveler to take off his coat first.

The Wind blew with all his might, but the harder the Wind blew, the tighter the traveler held his coat. Then the Sun tried.  As the Sun rose higher and shined brighter, the traveler began to feel the gradually increasing warmth of his presence.  After a short time, he finally removed his coat.  The Sun was declared the winner.

This Aesop fable offers a timeless lesson in leadership.  As a front-line supervisor, it’s often easy to rely on your position to try and force or drive behaviors.  Like the wind, we often find ourselves pushing harder when performance gets behind or off track.  Like the traveler, our employees don’t always respond as we would like them to, resulting in pushback and frustrations for everyone involved.


Leadership on the front line requires more than authority and edict.  It requires influence. 

Like the sun, you can often get more results when you rely on warmth instead of strength.  As entrepreneur Jim Goodnight once said, “Treat employees like they make a difference, and they will."

For many, transitioning to a softer set of skills in dealing with employees is foreign and seems counter to everything you may have ever been taught or experienced throughout your career.  However, being a leader and demonstrating through example isn’t a sign of weakness and doesn’t mean you have to lower your standards.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Authority will get you compliance, but influence is required to gain buy-in and commitment. 

Consider ways you can more effectively rise up and shine as a leader.  Recognize that warmth is far more effective than strength when trying to motivate others.  Leadership is felt by your employees because of what you do, not what you say. Build a fire within your employees, not beneath them. 

This article originally appeared in the AEU LEAD blog on December 11, 2018.



As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.



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