A Hierarchy of Leadership Approaches and Their Consequences

Leadership is based on the ability to get the people you are leading to take action to accomplish specific goals. There are choices available to a leader to motivate their team to act. Some choices are healthier and more effective than others.

Force: You might be tempted to think that force doesn’t belong in a leader’s toolkit, that it shouldn’t be in the range of choices available to a leader. But a leader may, from time to time, need to rely on force in emergency situations. If the threat is great and doesn’t allow for time, doling out orders and requiring people to respond might be the right choice. You may need to make people do what is necessary under extreme circumstances.

This choice should be used only in the rarest of circumstances, and great care should be taken to ensure that it isn’t needed. The military needs this choice. So do the police and fire fighters. Business people almost never do.

Threat of Force: The threat of force, demanding something be done or consequences will be forthcoming, isn’t a choice that should be made often or taken lightly. The price to relationships is too high and the effectiveness too low. Ultimatums are a horrible way to produce results, and long term, they destroy the team you lead. This is the choice of last resort, and should rarely ever have to be exercised.

If you’ve gotten to the point where an ultimatum is necessary, you have made mistakes as a leader and allowed a problem to go unaddressed too long.

Manipulation: Manipulation is another extremely negative choice. Unlike force, there is never a reason to use manipulation to produce results. It does tremendous damage to your relationships, and it demonstrates to your team that you want what you want, and you’ll make whatever Machiavellian moves necessary to get your result. Manipulation is the choice of the sociopath.

Manipulation sits in the middle only because it is something less than force and to remind you that it is a choice you may unknowingly make . . . read on.

Persuasion: You might be surprised to find persuasion so close to manipulation. It doesn’t carry the same baggage as “manipulation,” but the only thing separating the two is your intentions. Making a rational, reasoned argument to convince someone isn’t negative. But anything deceptive or self-oriented quickly transforms persuasion into manipulation. Persuasion, in the positive sense of the word, is a choice a leader will need available to her.

You will need to make reasoned, rational arguments to persuade others as a leader. But there are better choices that will limit the amount of persuading necessary.

Influence: Influence is better than persuasion. When you have influence, your relationship does the necessary work in helping you to achieve results through others. Your character makes it easy for people to follow your lead without your having to persuade, manipulate, or command them.

When you have influence, you never have to worry about whether or not the people you are leading are doing what they are supposed to be doing; they wouldn’t do otherwise. They know you care about them, and they would never dream of letting you down.

Inspiration: There is a higher choice than influence. That choice is inspiration. When you lead through inspiration, you help people find and develop into the best version of themselves. You help them find meaning in their work, and you help them identify their purpose. The more you lead from this choice, the less you need to rely on any of the other lesser, yet still sometimes necessary choices.

When you inspire people, not only would they never let you down, more importantly, they wouldn’t let themselves down.

The higher you climb on this spectrum, the greater your relationship will be with those you lead, the better your results, the greater and faster your growth, the more leaders you will create, and  the greater your legacy will be.

Filed under: The Leadership Playbook

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