Good Leaders Persuade. They Don’t Manipulate.

From the moment we were born, we have been weaned and schooled in the art and science of manipulation. So much so, in fact, that we hardly recognize it anymore, both as targets and purveyors of manipulative influence.

It doesn’t take a cynic to admit that such ploys surround us at every turn, from a daily onslaught of advertising messages to organizational politics to a looming performance review. Our lives run on some combination of contingent consequence and tantalizing reward, the latter often simply being the avoidance of pain (obeying the law to sidestep a tax audit, for example).

To escape this vicious circle of doomed cause and effect of a manipulative management style — doomed, because it inevitably leads to a downward spiral of disloyalty and mistrust — you need to understand the difference between manipulation and the eminently finer art of influence through persuasion.

Manipulation is, by definition, a form of persuasion, in that the avoidance of negative consequences does indeed serve the needs of the target audience. “You get to keep your job” is one such tried-and-true example of a manipulative management strategy, one that becomes an effective enough response to anyone bothering to ask, “What’s in it for me?”

But the key difference between manipulation and persuasion, one that differentiates successful cultures from fractured ones, is that manipulation is almost always a short-term strategy, destined to self-destruct unless even stronger forms of manipulation are employed moving forward.

With manipulation, neither party, manipulator nor manipulated, benefit over the long term. Sure, in the short term, a manipulative strategy may yield the kind of results, which, in the mind of the manipulator, justify the means. But if that’s your modus operandi, consider changing it in favor of ethical influencing methods that build respect for you instead of corroding it.



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