Managers Push, Leaders Pull: Tips to Become a Good Puller

Do you push or pull? We see these words frequently in our daily lives (mostly above door handles), but they have meaning in our work lives too.

Marketers use the terms push and pull to explain how they can strategically gain a new customer. If you decide to use push marketing, your approach is to promote your product by pushing it onto the potential buyer. If you decide to use pull marketing, your approach is to build brand awareness and draw the potential buyer to you naturally.

The terms are similarly used when applied to managerial processes. A manager might push her direct reports to implement a new sales technique by requiring that they use a particular sales process by the end of the year. In the new year, all sales will be recorded using documentation that supports the new sales process. When a manager chooses to push instead of pull her direct reports, they have no choice in type of sales method chosen, no input on how it might be implemented, nor any say about the time frame that a new process will be launch. All of those decisions are pushed upon them by their all-knowing manager.

That same pushing manager can transform herself into a pulling leader by making three changes to her approach.

  1. First, the pulling leader is persuasive; she lets her direct reports make their own decisions but is sure to put all of the relevant information on the table. A leader can gently pull her reports to implement changes, when her direct reports come to believe that there are a host of personal and professional advantages that make this change desirable. Comparing and contrasting the current process, the newly proposed process, and rival processes (also referred to as the “learning orientation”) is key to this step. When direct reports feel educated and empowered by new information, they are more likely to choose the best option.
  2. Second, the pulling leader creates an open dialogue. In the case of implementing a new sales technique, a pulling leader would create an environment where direct reports can openly discuss the pros and cons of each scenario without backlash.
  3. Third, the pulling leader allows individuals to test the waters in the way that suits them best. For some, this might mean rolling the idea around in their head for a few days or weeks. For others, this might mean taking the process out for a test run. Still others might want to do their own research. Allowing for individual differences in the implementation process gives direct reports faith that this is not a one-size fits all, top-down, mandatory procedure.

There are plenty of reasons that managers continue to push instead of pull. Pushing is quick. It requires very little managerial savvy. “Because I said so” is basically the pusher’s response to any queries about the change process.

The pulling leader has a much more uncertain road. The individual differences of the team, their buy-in preferences, their personality quirks, and their individual desires are all a part of the consideration process for the pulling leader. The good news is that the pay-off for pulling your team into the future is that they will willingly be standing by your side. This is vastly different from pushing them into the future with you because they may be next to you in body alone, begrudging every minute spent with you.

Be a puller, not a pusher.

For more from Sarah Robinson about persuasive leadership see Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want.

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