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Am I Manipulative?

Posted on August 14, 2012 by under Confessions, Leadership.    

We had a good leadership seminar/conference/training/meeting today. While I didn’t learn anything earth shattering, our guest speaker (Phillip Van Hooser) pretty much affirmed common sense concepts that we already know but don’t consistently practice (at least I know that I don’t and should), I think these meetings are valuable in that they remind us of the things that we often take for granted. It’s tough to get away when work is extremely hectic and schedules are beyond busy, but having these meetings once a year or so is a nice refresher. Sometimes we need to be reminded of the things that we should be doing. I suppose some people feel more confident about their leadership abilities. I need all the help and reminding that I can get.

Anyway, our speaker today said something that one of my bosses actually disagreed with. Van Hooser said, “You can’t, I can’t, no one can motivate someone to do something that they don’t want to do.” My boss argues that you can. As for me, I agree with Van Hooser’s statement. I felt bad about disagreeing with my boss’ views because I admire him a lot. He is one of the wisest people I know and is an amazing leader. He is pretty much the “Gil” of leadership. When it comes to cars and car maintenance, I ask myself WWGD? When it comes to work stuff, one of my first questions usually is WWTD? It was really difficult for me to have an opposing view but, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I agree with both of them.

Yes, I know that I can’t motivate someone to do something that they don’t want to do. I believe this statement. But, I also believe that you can make someone “want” to do something they otherwise wouldn’t do. The key for me is helping the other person realize that this is what they want. A coworker raised the issue of motivation vs. manipulation. I guess, to many people, convincing someone that they want to do something they didn’t previously want to do requires manipulation. However, I’m envisioning a totally different approach. I see it as helping someone come to the realization that they want to do something by asking them a series of questions. By having a good conversation with them, they’ll come to realize that performing the tasks expected or required by the company will ultimately help them achieve their goals or satisfy their needs. I don’t feel like I’m coercing or manipulating or threatening them into doing something they don’t want to do. SIDE NOTE: If you’ve met me, you know that I’m not assertive so it’s highly unlikely that I would be aggressive with anyone. I’m kind of a softie. Too soft in fact that I felt like I needed to take assertiveness training earlier this year in order for people to take me seriously (end side note). I feel like I’m merely helping the other person understand how our goals are aligned and that it really makes sense for them to do what is asked.

So am I unknowingly manipulating people? That’s quite a revelation. There is a line between motivation and manipulation, the latter being a negative way of getting the results that you desire. I’ve never really thought about it, but I’m now worried that I’m being manipulative without even realizing that I’m doing it. WTH? (File this under #leadershipconundrums.)

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