Push vs Pull Leadership

Many of us working in Corporate America know all too well that management hops on and off buzz word bandwagons faster than Miami Heat fans after LeBron took his talents back to Cleveland. Now I usually don’t get caught up with these buzz words/motivational slogans as they all pretty much preach the same thing lately (“get things done and make sure you’re engaged and smile while doing it”) but one in particular caught my attention recently. I had the privilege of sitting in to a Business Area dashboard review and a particularly alarming trend had appeared on a program. It was readily apparent to the Business Unit VP that this trend had been present for some time and was the result of poor teamwork that would result late contractual deliveries. The VP went into the typical feedback/follow-up actions but followed it up with some great knowledge on leadership when she exclaimed “You can pull a rope anywhere you want to but try pushing it and you’ll get nowhere.” She further expanded by going into how there were two types of leadership styles: push (directives, power-based approaches, compensation leverage, performance reviews) and pull (values, appreciation, mentoring, example-based). Push leaders try to make people do things. It is very difficult to have a amicable work relationship when you are forced to do something and manage by instilling fear and repercussion. Pulls leaders lead in a manner that people choose to act.  They manage their team by creating a desire to work, learn, and grow together. Either way you end up in the same place. The latter however creates a path of least resistance to success. She later followed up the meeting by sending out the link to the article. The article can be summarized in the following bullet points:

  • Pull leaders don’t give orders; they create social systems that inspire people to join
  • Pull leaders take responsibility for the success of their organization and their people
  • Pull leaders work to become attractive to others
  • Pull leaders align and inspire with values
  • Pull leaders are stewards of their organizations and employees
  • Pull leaders architect their social and organizational space
  • Pull leadership isn’t easy

What do you think of each style? Is it more appropriate to use one style over the other? Should you be flexible and use both?




9 thoughts on “Push vs Pull Leadership

  1. Honestly, this might be one of the most useful things I have read during this whole grad school experience. When I am a manager, this is always the way I knew how I wanted to lead, but I never had a word for it or an easy way to describe it. I completely agree with the sentiment that you set expectations with your employees and then let them achieve those expectations on their own. In the meantime, you work your butt off to set the example. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. I love this! As a worker I always respond to Pull leadership more than Push but in my experience in leadership roles I agree that it is Pull not an easy roll to fill! Josh is right, “you work your butt off to set the example.” I also love this segment from the article, “Developing pull leadership skills demands as much courage as that pioneer had, only this time the territory is mental. Develop the courage to admit you don’t have the answers; the courage to admit your success depends more on others than on what you can do yourself; the courage to trust them; the courage to stand for your values even when it means making unpopular decisions; and the courage to rely on attraction rather than giving orders.” I think that perfectly encapsulates the challenges of Pull Leadership. I do think it is a challenge we should all tackle as Pull leadership inspires healthy work cultures for everyone involved.

  3. Great post on Pull vs. Push leadership. I would prefer Pull leadership since it gives more autonomy to your team and reduces stress/micro-management. It is also very helpful in team-building. It also depends on the type of people you are working with and your overall team. If your team requires constant micro management and push, then “Push” strategy might be better to get things done. Otherwise, Pull will be better in a long-run.

  4. I agree with the previous comments and also enjoyed the post. I would describe the Push/Pull styles as the difference between manageing and leading. Many new managers use the push approach and over time can adapt their style to grow into a great leader who utilizes the pull approach. When a manager is unable to adapt, they often find they are not selected for more senior roles in a company.

  5. I really enjoyed this post because it brings a few things to mind that I am constantly reminding myself as a Type A personality…

    1) Pull leadership is challenging, but it pays off
    2) Pull leadership requires trusting others to do great work, and giving them the space to do it
    3) Pull leadership is rewarding for both the leader and the team
    4) If you resort to the Push leadership style, you’ll see immediate lack of motivation on your team, and people will NOT want to follow your lead.

    What’s difficult is that most Project Managers I have ever interacted with are Type A personalities (including myself), who likely find it difficult to lead in the Pull leadership approach; however, if you are in this position and you don’t learn to lead with more “finesse”, you may find yourself stuck in the Project Manager position for a very long time (which may or may not be your career desire)!

    Growing into broader leadership roles requires a leadership style that relies more on causing people to WANT to follow you through a major challenge just because you are you.

  6. This article made me think of push and pull leadership as a dictator and mentor leadership respectively. If so, then I feel that management tends to use push methods more because it is direct and confrontational. I believe that it gives management a false sense of control because people do not like to be pressured into something through acts of power. But most people, including management themselves, would probably also prefer the pull method because it is more nurturing for personal growth. By maintaining great relationships through the pull method, this article is something that everyone should know.

  7. I 100% think that the pull method is more effective. It’s almost like the difference between leading and managing. While management might get results, the quality of results are better when done through leadership.

  8. I enjoy the thought of pull leadership; I believe that firms/businesses are becoming more aware of traditional organizational structure’s effect on productivity. What seems to be the trend is to give more autonomy to employees by way of giving them the freedom to take some more control over their careers. I went to a meet the firms event yesterday and many of the firms I spoke to, especially those whom have had a lot of success, lend much of their trust in the process of fostering the growth of their employees. An example of that in the field of auditing is that a firm usually decides to hire a general accounting professional and with the first three years at the firm these employees would be given experience in the many areas of the profession. This is just a small example of how organizations today are claiming responsibility over the development of their employees.

  9. Being a manager is hard, especially when you are in charge of many people. I’ve seen both the pull and the push leadership styles in action. I believe that the pull leadership works a lot better than the push for many reasons. However, the push leadership style also creates that business environment feel in a company. The way I see it is that pull is a great way to lead and motivate people but some push also has to be present in order to be successful. If you have a company of 300 people and those people are managed by a push leadership style only, you have 300 people working because they have to and not because they want to. You want to be able to inspire your employees and make them feel part of the company. If they are in an environment where they enjoy what they are doing, the people they are around, and their superiors, it will not feel like work at all. Pull leadership makes people want to do the work rather than being forced to. Work is work and it has to be done, therefore a pull leadership style with some push sprinkled in there is the best way to go.

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