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From Force to Influence


Mastering the Push/Pull Dynamic in Leadership

Leadership is the ability to guide others without force into a direction or decision that leaves them
still feeling empowered and accomplished

~ Lisa Cash Hanson

Leadership is not just about the power we hold, but how we use it.

As the old adage goes, “You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.” The same principle applies to leadership— influence yields better results than force.

Leadership styles can be categorized into two dynamics: push and pull. While push is sometimes necessary, such as in a crisis, the true art of leadership lies in pulling others toward us.

Inspiring Commitment vs. Demanding Compliance

💪 Too many leaders default to a push approach, which relies on power and authority to demand compliance. Think directive: ‘My way or the highway.’ While this method may achieve immediate results, it often leads to resistance, strained relationships, and long-term disengagement.

🧲 Pull, on the other hand, inspires commitment and doesn’t lean into direct authority. It’s about expanding perspectives and evoking a desire to buy into a vision or greater good. Those influenced have the right of refusal, which makes their commitment genuine and sustainable. It acknowledges agency and autonomy and, therefore, builds stronger, more trusting relationships. It also builds cohesive and engaged teams.

An example from my past work with Health and Safety Regulators illustrates the push approach. These regulators, tasked with protecting the public and enforcing regulations, often communicated with the professions they regulated in an authoritative tone that demanded compliance. They might have well used the language of “thou shalt”. This approach, while effective in some cases, often resulted in friction with those they regulated, leading to pushback, animosity and disengagement, which reduced their overall effectiveness.

As communicators, we helped them understand the crucial difference between their mandate’s WHAT and HOW. While we didn’t question their need to enforce regulations, we suggested a more approachable and engaging tone to inspire commitment rather than demand it. This shift from authority to collaboration not only improved relationships but also fostered two-way dialogue and increased effectiveness, offering a more promising future.

Convincing vs. Conviction

Another push/pull dynamic is convincing vs. conviction. Inspiring commitment is about leading with conviction, not about convincing others.

📢 Convincing is push—external, aiming to change minds or force acceptance, often putting people on the defensive.

🌱 Conviction is pull—internal, based on deeply held beliefs that naturally inspire others. It’s about authentically embodying your principles, so others are drawn to follow.

Transformational Leadership Uses Pull  

The ‘pull’ concept aligns with transformational leadership, where leaders inspire followers to exceed their self-interests for the group’s good. Research supports pull strategies: a study in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found transformational leadership significantly boosts employee satisfaction and performance, with a 23% increase in engagement and a 20% improvement in team performance.

Three Ways to Pull Employees Toward You

So, how can leaders do less pushing and more pulling? Here are three ideas:

  1. Build Genuine Relationships

Spend time getting to know your team members as people…understanding their motivations and aspirations. Holding regular one-to-one meetings where you actively listen and engage with their personal and professional goals can foster a deeper connection and trust.

  1. Communicate a Compelling Vision with Conviction

Share stories and examples that illustrate your vision and connect the dots. Show your team why you are passionate about your goals. Your conviction will resonate more powerfully than any attempt to convince through logical arguments alone.

  1. Empower Others and Give Them a Choice

In the words of Patrick Lencioni, if we want buy-in, people have to weigh-in. So, delegate meaningful responsibilities. Involve team members in decision-making processes. When people feel they have a choice and a stake in the outcomes, they are more likely to commit fully.

Shifting from push to pull isn’t just a change in strategy; it’s a transformation in mindset. Leaders can foster a more engaged, motivated, and high-performing team by focusing on inspiring commitment rather than demanding compliance.

Reflect on your leadership approach and consider how you can make this shift. Your team and your results will be the beneficiaries of your transformation.

What are some situations where you tend to push rather than pull? 

 How can you shift your approach to inspire commitment in your team? 

 What would more buy-in from your team mean for your performance? 

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