You get what you reward

David Epps
Years ago, I heard a man say to a group of leaders, “You get what you reward.” After that meeting, I began to take notice to see if that was true. In the denomination in which I served at the time, awards were given to churches for three primary acts: (1) support of missionaries, (2) numerical growth in the local church, and (3) money contributed to specific causes. At the state convention each year awards in these categories would be handed out.
Sure enough, quite a number of churches participated to the point of being rewarded. The result was that missionaries got supported, churches were motivated to grow, and needed funds were raised.
Some leaders think the way to get what they want out of employees, volunteers, or members of an organization is to badger, harass, harangue, criticize, demean, humiliate, and embarrass. They believe that the louder they shout and the rougher the language, the better the results. They are wrong.
What this does serve to do is cause an environment of low morale, resentment, fear, intimidation, and, ultimately, the desire to get out from under such a “leader” even if it means overthrowing the leader or leaving the organization. Such so-called leaders are not good leaders at all.
About 20 years ago I was in an organization of volunteers (it actually cost money to belong to this group) and I was an officer. Each month at the officers meeting, the leader would spend a good hour pointing out faults, making ever greater demands, criticizing the officers for their lack of progress or commitment, and otherwise contributing to a depressing environment.
One day, I sat through one of these tirades and thought, “Why am I subjecting myself to this? I joined this outfit to contribute and to do some good, but this is ridiculous.” That was the day I decided to walk away. It just wasn’t worth it.
It has been said that good leaders praise in public and correct in private. I believe that is true. The best leaders I have worked under find something to praise in public and often in private, as well. And, sometimes when there needs to be correction, it is done behind closed doors away from peers.
If a leader rewards good behavior, good works, good effort, especially in public, he or she is far more likely to see a repeat performance. Some leaders say that a “carrot and stick” approach is needed. That’s fine if one is liberal with the carrots and stingy with the sticks. And if the carrots are served in public and the sticks in private. It may be that some actions or behaviors must be confronted publicly. But it is also true that those instances should be rare.
In the diocese I serve, we give out awards to churches for their participation in missions giving, in giving to help build churches, and in supporting the pro-life agency of our denomination.
There is also the William J. Shelton Award, named after the late Deacon Bill Shelton, which recognizes the Deacon of the Year. On occasion, a worthy priest who has served the church for a life time and has attained his senior years (usually 75 or older) will be recognized as an “honorary canon of the church.”
The highest award in our diocese is the Commendation of Excellence given to either clergy or lay member whose contributions to the life and work of the diocese is exceptional.
Last week, as the Past Commandant of the Sgt. Clyde Thomason Medal of Honor Detachment of the Marine Corps League, it was my privilege to make a number of presentations to Marine veterans and Navy Fleet Marine Force Corpsmen and Chaplains whose actions and sacrifices help the detachment to achieve its goals and excel.
These awards included the Individual Meritorious Commendation for those who performed their elected or appointed office duties in an exemplary manner. It also included the members of the Detachment Shooting Team who garnered national honors in competition.
There was also the Community Service Award given to those who helped us raise funds for the Wounded Warrior Regiment East at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Healing for Heroes, a local organization that provides service animals to those combat veterans who suffer from PTSD, and The Shepherd’s Men, who provided services to veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. This award also includes those of the detachment who raised money for Toys for Tots which, in our own local area, provided Christmas gifts for some 6,000 children last year. These aren’t all the charities we support but they are the “big ones.”
There was also the Distinguished Citizen (Bronze) Award that recognized those who participated in the Fallen Marine Program, represented the detachment at veteran’s funerals or at events recognizing World War II veterans, and members of the color guard who serve at parades, patriotic events, and funerals. In all, some 70 awards were made.
Why do all this in the diocese and in the Marine Corps League? First, to express appreciation in a tangible way to people who make a significant difference. Secondly, to showcase what we value and, of course, we hope and expect that others will also be motivated and encouraged to participate in these endeavors. You get what you reward.
It works the other way too. If people reward lawlessness, then lawlessness they will get. If bad behavior is encouraged and rewarded, then more bad behavior will follow. Wise leaders, in my opinion, would do well to stay away from the stick as much as possible, treat their people better, and reward to actions and behaviors they want to see.
I overheard someone say recently, “There are no bad organizations, only bad leaders.” While that may not always be true, I think it is generally true. If a leader desires to see positive progress and success, perhaps he or she should begin by looking in the mirror.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City ( He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and is the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at]