Is effective leadership manipulation?

December 13, 2014 by Joshua
in Leadership

Every seminar I lead and client I coach, when I describe how to lead by evoking people’s passions, somebody asks if the technique isn’t manipulation. I understand the question from how effective I say the techniques work. The question also saddens me, as I’ll describe.

It passes the Golden Rule

People don’t ask if it’s manipulation after someone uses the technique on them, which is one of the exercises we do.

When you feel how it feels for someone to understand you and connect that passion to a task, you feel great. I don’t know how else to describe it. You feel like, “Finally, I can talk about these things I care about,” and “Finally, I can work for the reasons I’ve wanted to.”

When you feel that joy and enthusiasm, you’ll wish your managers and leaders led you this way.

If something passes the Golden Rule of reciprocity, that you want someone else to do it unto you, it’s hard to have a problem with it. More likely, you’ll have a problem with its lack.

A firm lead helps

If you’ve partner danced, like waltz or tango, you know one person leads and the other follows. The leader pushes the follower to indicate where to move.

Growing up, I learned not to push women around. Based on that learning, when I learned partner dancing I led with a light touch. Until a teacher had us do an exercise where the women led and the men followed. Then I felt what a light lead felt like—horrible! I couldn’t tell what to do.

I came to see a firm lead as more helpful. When a follower knows what the leader wants, the follower has more freedom to spin, risk falling, and so on.

If you call a firm lead manipulation, then manipulation can help. What you call it doesn’t matter, though. It helps to lead firmly sometimes.

You have to avoid micromanaging, of course.

After you get good at it, you’ll call how you now lead manipulation

This section is why people wondering if this technique is manipulation saddens me.

Most people contrast leading based on people’s passions against what they’re used to—that is, leading with external tools like hiring, promotion, raises, increased responsibility, demotion, firing, etc. I agree these tools help manage, but not necessarily lead.

After you lead people based on their emotions and what they care about, you’ll look back on leading people with external tools as fake and manipulative, and not in the sense of a firm lead in partner dancing. People work far more for their passions than for marginal differences in external things. Sure, they need to get paid to pay rent and eat, but nobody lives so their grave stones can say “He got the corner office” or “She rose in the organization fast.” They live for their passions.

In time, leading this way will transform more and more of your professional and then personal relationships to be based more on their and your emotions and passions—in other words on meaning, value, importance, and purpose (MVIP).

We’ve focused so much on external things with less MVIP that we’ve lost sight of what creates MVIP and how to create it.

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