As leaders, we are charged with inspiring the team with whom we lead to create value, accomplish the mission, and continually improve as both individuals and a team. Many of us attempt to do that by pulling the team along. We are so committed to effectively delivering on our mandate that we resort to assigning tasks, dictating goals, specifying outcomes, and personally tracking progress. It is a proven recipe for success, at least in the short term. We all can point to individuals who achieve results by making risk mitigation the priority and attempting to control as much as possible through their direct involvement. There are certainly scenarios where pulling the team is the optimal approach. Specified tasks are accomplished, short-term value is created, and the team of followers is most certainly strengthened. The flaw with this model is twofold:

  • It is dependent on the singular leader
  • Followers improve only as followers, without the benefit of developing as leaders, personally owning the outcome, and directly shaping the direction of the organization

Pulling the team is tempting, but another approach is that of enabling, and ultimately demanding, the team push themselves as both individuals and as a collective. Rather than assign tasks, dictate goals, and specify outcomes, we assign responsibilities, ask them to shape the goals, and ensure that they share in the ownership of the outcomes we deliver as a team. I have pulled people along and I acknowledge that others have had reason to pull me over the years. I liken it to priming and pull starting an engine. Some engines need to be primed more than others. Every now and then even the finest motors sputter and need to be restarted. The leader who pushes is aware enough to do preventive maintenance so that those with whom they are leading can continue to operate efficiently, create additional momentum, and lead the rest of the powertrain to more effectively generate energy.

Though I may need to be pulled every now and then, I prefer the opportunity to push myself. And though I may pull others from time to time, it is not my desire. When we pull a team who is capable of pushing themselves, we both slow them down and recondition their behavior. For instance, my laptop battery is now dead because I continually leave my computer plugged in. It is no longer capable of powering itself. On the other hand, when we properly equip and then expect others to push themselves, great things happen. Maybe not as quickly as we like, but when they do, results are sustained, self-enforced standards are raised, followers become leaders, and value creation is multiplied.

Effective leaders know when to push and when to pull. We do our best to spend more time doing the former…

  • Are you pulling or pushing others?
  • Are you pushing yourself or forcing others to pull you along?
  • Are you leading for short-term success or long-term┬ásignificance?