Leading Through Emotions Is the Opposite of Manipulation

Leading Through Emotions Is the Opposite of Manipulation

Leading means helping people do what they want, not what they don’t want. Thinking otherwise undermines your ability to lead.

Leading Through Emotions Is the Opposite of Manipulation
Leading Through Emotions Is the Opposite of Manipulation

As a leadership professor, trainer, and author, I have occasion to see people develop leadership skills at all levels.
When I describe the difference between leadership and management, they tend to accept that management generally involves behavior and things you can see and measure. Its goal is compliance.
Leadership, by contrast, more involves emotions and motivations–things you can’t see or measure. Its goal is more about getting people to want to do things.
They get that leadership is about emotions.
Then when I give them exercises to practice learning others’ emotions and behaving and communicating to change those emotions, they feel like it’s manipulation or trickery.
I’ve come to conclude that they are so used to thinking “If you pay someone to do something, he or she must not want to do it,” that they associate all work with not wanting to do it.
From that perspective, trying to create or change emotions is messing with someone’s inner self.

Thinking they don’t want to do it is backward

First, let’s assume the people on your teams worked hard to get there. Something motivated them to work hard. If so, they see some overlap between their interests and the team’s.
If their interest don’t overlap with the team’s at all, you have a hiring problem. Hiring is an important leadership issue, but let’s assume your team’s hiring is working.
If people’s interests overlap with the team’s, the belief that a leader creates or changes emotions will mess you up. More effective would be to reveal the emotions and motivations your teammates already have.
From this perspective, which applies if you don’t have hiring problems, paying people to work is manipulation. Of course, you need to enable them to pay rent, buy food, and live a lifestyle that enables them to work, but using external incentives on someone with internal motivation tends to devalue that internal motivation.
Devaluing internal motivation enough can lead your teammates to forget what brought them there in the first place, leading them to want more pay to make up for their lost motivation–which you led out of them.

Leading with emotions creates meaning and purpose

On the other hand, distilling from them their existing motivations and connecting them to the task imbues that task with meaning and purpose.
When you’ve connected their goals to your task, they’ll do it for their reasons, not yours, even if you assigned it to them. If you’ve been led this way, you know it feels more like liberation than manipulation.
I’ve been led both ways and I love being led by someone learning what I care about and connecting that caring to the work. That’s beyond passing the Golden Rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Practice eliciting people’s emotions and motivations to lead them. It takes practice. You’ll be liberating and unleashing them. They’ll thank you for it. I know I do when people lead me that way.
Ignoring their emotions risks devaluing the emotions and discouraging your people.

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