Push & Pull to Get the Best Results from Your Team

Imagine leading a team towards a goal. Do you direct them to get it done, or do you involve them, letting them have a say and motivating them to start? These are two different ways of reaching a goal. While involving your team is often best, blending both approaches is a crucial skill for leaders.

Here’s an example: a CEO wanted their leadership team to discuss the company’s environmental policy. The CEO was keen on change, so they allowed time for discussion (the involving approach). However, two executives were skeptical and didn’t act on the ideas. After two months, the CEO announced the implementation of two projects, shifting to a more directive approach. One executive objected and got fired (a big push).

Leaders who combine involving and directing are a great example of using both tactics. Pushing too hard can lead to discontent, but it’s necessary when involving isn’t working.

Researchers found that involving and directing are management styles aiming for the same goal but using different approaches. One is “driving for outcomes” (directing), while the other is “inspiring and motivating others” (involving).

Let’s break down the terms:

Pushing (Directing):

  • Giving guidance and telling people what to do.
  • Setting deadlines and holding others accountable.
  • Falls under an authoritarian leadership style.

Pulling (Involving):

  • Expressing the necessity of a task and explaining why.
  • Seeking input on how to do it and asking if they’re willing.
  • Energizing the team by showing enthusiasm and explaining benefits.

Research shows that 76% of leaders are better at directing than involving. However, leaders who excel at both are the most effective.

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Understanding people’s needs is crucial. When both tactics are low, confidence in achieving goals and job satisfaction suffer. When directing is strong and involving is weak, confidence and satisfaction rise but not as much. Strong involving leads to higher satisfaction and confidence. The most significant increase happens when both are high.

To bring both forces together, leaders need to recognize when to involve and when to direct based on the task, timing, and people involved. So, next time you’re working on a project, consider whether your team needs a strong push, a healthy pull, or a mix of both.

When both pull and push are high, the most significant increase occurs. (Note: The percentage of people who scored a 5 on a 5-point scale was used to determine high confidence and satisfaction.) This is a very high standard to meet.)

Bringing the Forces of Push and Pull Together

Many leaders are asking themselves tough questions as they try to figure out how to keep their employees from joining the Great Resignation. How do you persuade people to stick around? How do you influence them to put in more effort? What do they truly desire and require from their workplaces?

There has been a call for leaders to be less demanding and more compassionate toward individual employees. More pull and less push appear to be needed to keep the best employees. While I agree with this sentiment, the data also provides a warning. Your efforts to improve empathy shouldn’t detract from your ability to push when necessary. Pushing employees is a powerful force that builds confidence that the company will achieve its goals.

Your ability to recognize when to employ which method, based on the work, the timing, and the people, is what gives you power as a leader. So, the next time you’re working on a huge project, think about whether your team needs a strong push, a healthy pull, or both.

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