I enjoy working with people who push me to be better at what I do. Actually, as I reflect on my career, the times I was challenged to work harder, reach higher, and think outside the box yielded some of my greatest accomplishments. Basically, I thrive around pushy people.
I realize there is a negative connotation with that phrase. Sometimes people push too hard, too fast, or push without substantive data or intellect; and that can be frustrating. The “pushy people” I’m describing, however, either intuitively or purposefully possess the character trait of “persuasion” that Robert K. Greenleaf describes in his Servant Leadership theoretical framework.
So, what does persuasion look like in practice?
- Persuasion, Not Coercion
Most of us can relate to at least one experience with an overbearing boss. We can also relate to employers who love to play office politics, pick favorites, or utilize manipulation in order to get things done. We can use many descriptors for such actions and behaviors, but the overarching principle is coercion, which is “the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.” While organizations with coercive leaders may experience short-term wins, they rarely succeed long term because reputations eventually catch up.
“Persuasion can take many forms but the result is still the same – a willing partnership designed to accomplish a shared vision of purpose” (Dr. Ed Rough in Leadership is Persuasion). The key word is “willing,” meaning both parties agree to do what it takes to achieve desired outcomes. That means as a leader, you don’t threaten employees to get the job done, nor do you ignore employees who are in a slump. Instead, the servant leader encourages and facilitates co-discovering pathways to desired outcomes.
- Busy Leaders Push People Out; Servant Leaders Push People Forward
Busy leaders may contribute to an environment where employees become objectified commodities whose humanity pales in importance to power, prestige, and profit. Surely unethical employees, those who refuse to meet performance standards, those who break the law, etc., should be pushed out, but often employees who are simply not meeting expectations need pushing forward before an attempt is made to push them out. Often the problem is systemic (i.e. bottlenecks, unclear expectations, lack of training, etc.) As a remedy, servant leaders seek to understand then act; not the other way around.
- Servant Leaders use Persuasion to Build Trust and Inspire Others to Follow
Maslow was right all along. If I feel safe and secure, I can begin the journey to self-actualization, which is to say I can reach my full potential. Although most of that is on me, workforce culture either contributes or detracts. Servant leaders are always more interested in the former.
Who in your organization could use some persuading? Can I push you to reach out to them?