Byron's Babbles

Push Me – Pull Me Leadership

Posted in Coaching, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 2, 2015

PushmepullyouThis past week a discussion came up about how do we get young leaders to grow. Leadership growth happens when there is stretch. By stretch I mean being put in an uncomfortable place – In other words, pushed. But, is pushing always the best approach?

It is very easy as a leader to push our high flyers. The old adage “we give the most projects and responsibility to the busiest and most competent people because they get things done and get them done right,” is all too true. But really, we need to make sure that we are pushing all of our team members. We just need to make sure we are differentiating the way we are pushing, or as I will discuss here, occasionally pulling too. I am reminded of a story back from my early teaching days. I would like to share it with you here:

At the time of this story I was an agriculture science teacher and FFA advisor. Needless to say, I was very competitive in FFA contests and really pushed students hard to success. We had many state champions and many students that went on to successful careers based on the foundations that began in those contests, or Career Development Events as they are called now. But, that’s not what the focus is here.

The focus here is on a student name Suzie (I have changed the name). Suzie was very talented and over the course of her high school career won three state FFA championships. That is not an easy task. As you can guess, I pushed Suzie very hard. Let me reiterate here for emphasis that Pushing was what I was doing until she came to me in tears one day and said the words that would change my life as a leader forever. She said, “Big E (that’s what they called me back then) sometimes you need to pull me up along side of you once in a while instead of pushing all the time.”

Wow, I was devastated! How stupid I had been. I was so glad Suzie had given me this slap in the face, however, because it changed me and gave me a new perspective as a leader. From that time on I would always remember how important it is to pull those I serve up alongside myself and work shoulder to shoulder while at the same time pushing occasionally, too.

Suzie had taught me how to lead in such a way that followers would choose to act. Pulling a person in motivation means creating conditions that they choose themselves. It means showing them how something else will be beneficial to them. It means them deciding rather than just you deciding. Push and pull are a matched pair: pushing is the stick to the carrot of pulling. It is discovery as opposed to the ordering of push methods. It is creating desire rather than creating fear. It is creating attraction rather than

While the objectives of PUSH and PULL are the same, the way that one goes about achieving these objectives is very different. The objective is the same, but the approach is very different. To help pull it is important to help those we lead to set goals with a reasonable chance of achievement, but not so easy as to lack challenge. We must also have people develop their own specific plans for how they will accomplish their goals; then jointly review these plans and provide our input. Regularly ask people how they’re progressing in reaching their goals and ask what you can do to help them achieve or exceed their goals. I believe it is important to express confidence in the individual’s ability to reach goals. We must follow up regularly on progress and reinforce all movement in the right direction. Demonstrate enthusiasm to our teams by talking about why the organization’s goals are important and encouraging others to set challenging individual goals.

So how do we move from the push style of leadership to a pull leadership style. Essentially it requires becoming involved with the challenges and initiatives your organization has before it. We become involved when we show both in what we say and what we do that we are interested and care.  We need to clearly demonstrate that what we do is for the greater good of the organization, not merely something that will boost our own value.  We need to clearly demonstrate with words and actions that we want our team to develop as individuals. It really is about remember that the most important thing we can focus on as leaders is our people.




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