LeaDerShip VII

by / Sunday, 03 January 2016 / Published in Blog Essays


Are you a pulling or a pushing leader?

Let me first wish all of us a very happy and blessed New Year 2016.

I left us with the question above at the end of LeaDerSheep VI and while reflecting on what I would call my New Year Resolution (NYR) 2016, I came across this quote by Cyril Cusack “If you asked me for my NYR 2016, it would be to find out who I am.” It was indeed striking because many of us define ourselves or are defined by others by what we do and not what we are.  It does not surprise me when in the beginning of some of my sessions I ask people to define themselves and I see that I have opened the storeroom of names, position in the organisation or profession, qualification, place of origin, siblings, marital status, etc. But is this really what one is or there is more?

If I go by the conviction that ‘How I do what I do defines who I am more than what I do itself’, it means that I have many facets because I do so many things in different roles. For example, how play the role of a husband is different from how I play the role of a father so what defines me here is not what I do but how I do it. In this article, the role is of leadership and the question is in this role “Do you pull people to yourself or do you push people away?”

To help you in finding an answer to this question or to explore to determine the one that dominates you let me share a typical scenario that is commonly shared by a group of leaders that I worked with.

The organisation is purely number-driven and success is measured by these numbers, however, the fixing of these numbers at the beginning of the month has does not seem to have any scientific backing. The leadership is strictly formal and in layers with the communication discipline of the military – obey the channel of communication. The grass root layers are responsible for meeting numbers whereas the upper layers are responsible for reporting numbers though they consider it as being accountable.

When I started working with the leaders, I discovered that the philosophy or culture of the organisation is the belief that the success of business is solely defined by the ability to push for goals (numbers). Hence, the most common approach used by leaders here to achieve results is characterized by the competency “Drive for Results.”  The best single word I can think of to describe this competency is PUSH. What characterised this behaviour is illustrated with the help of a dialogue that was shared and to which majority of the participants subscribed to

  • When talking to the subordinate on phone, neighbours would be hearing the voice of the leader, his agitated footstep would make neighbours rush out from rooms as though as though they experience tremor; their agitated voice and tensed facial expression would cause the small child to rush to mummy to find out what is wrong with daddy.

At the receiving end, the subordinate is sitting with his baby on his laps and sipping his cup of coffee while watching his wife meticulously roll the kneaded flour for breakfast chapattis. As soon as this call from the boss comes, he leaves the baby on the floor, keeps his cup of coffee and rushes to his room to listen to his boss.

  • When the talk is over and the child approaches to be carried by the father again, she gets the rebuffing response of ‘go to your mother’, the coffee is now cold, the interest in watching wife do some of the household chores is lost, facial expression changes and the morning joy is lost.
  • Whenever your boss talks to you, you become a different person and it scares me as I do not know what it does to you and you do not share with me. Consider leaving this company and find something better. This is the voice of the wife that in most cases sets the employee into thinking. This the first call for divorce or separation or attrition.

On the other hand, there were many leaders who were equally achieving results by inspiring and motivating their team. These people,

  • were able to energize people to achieve goals and objectives.
  • could inspire others to high levels of effort and performance.
  • were able to bring a high level of energy and enthusiasm to the group.

When I asked these leaders about their interaction with their leaders, the responses were completely different:

  • I am excited when my phone rings and it is my boss ringing to talk to me. I never wanted to listen to him while alone but in the presence of my family because I want them to see the glow on my face when my boss interacts with me. I feel so energised and wanting to go except that sometimes it is too late or too early to venture out. Obviously what I earn is not as important as how my boss makes me feel. Many of the leaders who use this competency echoed the same sentiment.

This methodology I describe as the PULL side of leadership behaviour. The distinction is that while the PUSH style is ‘responsible and accountable’ for numbers, the PULL style is ‘responsible and responsive’ to people.

In the process of our work together, many of the leaders began to get in touch with the fact that they were becoming everything they never wanted to be: self-absorbed, busy thinkers that were unwilling to trust their subordinates. These are the leaders that use the PUSH competency as their approach. Many also understood that their approach was the PULL competency but were not consciously doing it. In fact when I ask managers what they would do to be more inspirational, typically I get a number of blank stares.  Leaders know how to PUSH but they are not as clear about how to PULL.

Agreeably, many of the leadership development and team building programmes today are cognisant of the impact of leadership behaviour on leadership effectiveness.  However, the focus of input tends more towards reinforcing the PUSH skills and not much is done on the PULL skill. There is no doubt that a blend of both approaches would produce the best result but the challenge of changing the mind-set of senior leaders who feel threatened when their style is questioned is a major obstacle. Moreover, to convince management that what is being offered is ‘alternative’ rather than ‘replacement’ faces its own challenges.

The concept of “choice” is not only knowing all that are available but also knowing when best to use each choice. As a leader, what is your dominant – PUSH or PULL? Do you do it by CHANCE or by CHOICE? Are you aware of the implications and benefits of each competency and their blend?

The shepherd is aware of the different grazing fields around and the availability of grass and leaves for the sheep during different seasons of the year. It is this knowledge and availability of options that determines where he/she takes the flock during the summer and during the winter and even during the transition between the two extreme seasons. This knowledge and flexibility is what makes the shepherd an effective leader.  But it is his boss that empowered him to acquire the knowledge and make choices believing that in choice making, mistakes do occur and that effective leaders do not make the same mistake more than once.  In other words, does your leadership philosophy include freedom to make mistakes?

Look at the two leadership competencies described in this article I am sure you identify yourself with each of them as is the case with everyone of us. Would you like to write down your comments vis-a-vis what you discovered about yourself after reading this article? You have a choice.

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