To get results, the best leaders push and pull their teams

Over the past year, there has been a call for leaders to be less demanding and more empathetic to individual employees. To get results, managers had to rely on “attraction”: giving employees a say in how they perform a task and using inspiration and motivation to drive them forward. But an analysis of thousands of 360-degree reviews showed that the most effective leaders also know how to “push” — getting results by telling people what to do and holding them accountable. Take-out? Your efforts to increase empathy should not diminish your ability to occasionally push when necessary. Data shows that this can be a powerful force that builds employee confidence. The key is knowing when to use which approach, depending on the task, the time and the people.

When you see a task that needs to be done by your team, “push” them to get it done or “pull” them, giving them a say in how they perform it and using inspiration and motivation to get them going? These are two very different approaches to achieving a goal, and the latter is often the best, but knowing how to combine these two paths is an important skill for managers and leaders.

Take this example from one of our clients. There had been an ongoing discussion about the company’s environmental and sustainability policies. The CEO allowed debate and encouraged everyone to speak up. The CEO strongly supported the need for change, but allowed time for in-depth discussion (using the pull approach). However, two members of the management team were opponents and dragged their feet on the adoption of any of the proposed initiatives. After two months of inaction, the CEO announced to the team that the company was going to implement two initiatives and said that everyone should be on board (move to the push approach). One of the leaders hesitated and made it clear that he would not support the initiatives. The CEO fired him at the end of the week (using the ultimate push approach).

Leaders who are willing to try hard to pull but end up resorting to a hard push provide a good example of the power of combining these two approaches. Pushing too hard can erode satisfaction, but sometimes it’s necessary, especially when pulling just isn’t working.

In our research, my colleague Jack Zenger and I identified two leadership behaviors directed toward the same end goal but using opposite approaches. We call one behavior “driving for results” (pushing), and the other “inspiring and motivating others” (pulling). Let me define what I mean.

Define push and pull

When a leader identifies a goal they want to accomplish, there are two distinct paths to get there.

To push involves giving directions, telling people what to do, setting a deadline, and generally holding others accountable. He is at the “authoritarian” end of the spectrum of leadership styles.

Tie rod, on the other hand, involves describing to a direct report a necessary task, explaining the reason behind it, seeing what ideas they might have about how best to accomplish it, and asking if they are ready to take it on. The leader can further enhance the attraction by describing what this project could do for the employee’s development. Ideally, the leader’s energy and enthusiasm for the goal is contagious.

Gathering data from over 100,000 leaders through our 360 degree reviews, we measured both push and pull and found that 76% of leaders were rated by their peers as more competent at pushing than to shoot. Only 22% of leaders were rated better at shooting, and just 2% were rated equal for both skills.

We also asked the people who rated these leaders (over 1.6 million people) which skill was most important for a leader to be successful in their current job. Pulling (inspiring others) was ranked the most important, while pushing (driving to get results) was ranked fifth.

Understand what people want and need

While our data clearly indicates that most leaders could benefit from improving their ability to attract or inspire others, our research found that leaders who were successful in both pushing and attracting were ultimately the most effective. .

We collected 360-degree assessment data on 3,875 pandemic leaders. In this analysis, we proceeded as follows:

  • Direct reports rated the leader’s effectiveness in both pushing (driving to achieve results) and pulling (inspired and motivated others).
  • Direct reports were also asked to rate their confidence that the organization would achieve its strategic goals and their satisfaction with their organization as a workplace.
  • We categorized the leader data on the push and pull into quartiles and identified which were low (lower quartile) and high (higher quartile).

The results are captured in the table below. When both push and pull are in the bottom quartile, trust and satisfaction among direct reports is low. When the push is high and the pull is low, confidence and satisfaction increase. When attraction is high, satisfaction rises to a level significantly higher than trust. When both are high, you see the greatest increase. (Note: High confidence and satisfaction was measured by the percentage of people who scored 5 on a 5-point scale. This is a very high satisfaction bar.)

Bring together push and pull together

As many leaders around the world grapple with retention and how to prevent their employees from joining the big quit, they are asking themselves some tough questions. How do you motivate people to stay? How do you encourage them to redouble their efforts? What do they really want and need from their work environment?

In recent years, there has been a call for leaders to be less demanding and more empathetic towards individual employees. More attraction, less pressure seemed to be what was needed to retain talented employees. While I agree with this sentiment, this data also offers a clear warning. Your efforts to increase empathy should not diminish your ability to occasionally push when necessary. As our data shows, this can be a powerful force that builds confidence.

In fact, your influence as a leader comes from your ability to know when to use which approach, depending on the task, the time and the people. So the next time you’re trying to accomplish an important goal, ask yourself if your team really needs a big boost, a big boost, or maybe both.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: