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In a prior post on Leaders as Performers, I argued that leading, like performing, is real behavior in a manufactured environment.

“But wait,” you say, “you’re really talking about manipulating people into doing what you want them to do.” While you’re not entirely wrong, manipulating is a rather strong word, don’t you think? Convincing, influencing, or encouraging would be more accurate.

Now before you get on your high horse of moral superiority and outrage (I know you aren’t outraged, I’m talking about that other person over there), ask yourself this: What human to human interaction isn’t about influencing the other person? What? That is the so cynical! How can I possibly say that? Two friends getting together for coffee to catch up, someone sitting with a grieving spouse whose partner just died, a parent comforting their child during their first breakup, how do these situations involve influencing? Perhaps you already see where I am going with this, but let me state it clearly. Two friends with coffee – don’t you do that to maintain or deepen the relationship? Isn’t there an unspoken agreement that we don’t want to feel isolated and alone, that we want to enjoy each other’s company, feel connected and increase our own and the other’s happiness or contentment with life? Sitting with a grieving spouse – do we not have an unspoken desire for them to feel comfort in our presence, to let them know they are not alone, that we are there for them as best we can in their time of grief? Your child’s first breakup – isn’t your desire as a parent also to comfort, to help them through it, to let them know you (and everyone else) has experienced this as well and they will get through it?

Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of this and our motives are usually for the other person’s well being. And we don’t consciously think about these things, nor do we need to. However, in all those situations, there is a type of influencing of the other person happening in order for them to feel something positive.

The point is that it is part of being human to connect, comfort and yes, influence. But this is not manipulation. Manipulation implies deception and no one is deceiving the other person. Again, it is an unspoken, yet understood agreement.

Leading is no different, because leading is influencing. To be successful as a leader, you must be able to convince those that are following that your ideas, plans, hopes, dreams, vision, etcetera are the right ones to follow.

Can this be manipulation? Absolutely, if there is deception, hidden agendas, or outright lies. And although it seems like that happens in leadership all the time, I don’t believe that is actually true. Manipulative or coercive types of leadership make the headlines, but I have faith that the majority of leaders are simply doing the best they know how to reach a dream or goal they truly believe in. I also believe that most leaders want the people they are leading to benefit as well when the dream is realized.

So how do we influence in positive ways? Next time my friend. Next time.


Dr. Jeff


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