Why Leaders Should Practice “Pull” Management

An increasing percentage of the work done today depends, as Blanche DuBois might have said, on the kindness of strangers. Your success as a leader hinges on your ability to entice people — many of whom you may never even meet — to want to go the extra mile for your business.

Discretionary effort is the life blood of today’s economy.

As we move to business models that depend on people working together, on innovation, on individual expertise and craft, on crowds contributing to the whole, we must also move sharply away from our traditional concepts regarding the key responsibilities of senior executives.

I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a lot of research over many years on how and why people collaborate and innovative; through it all, one conclusion stands clear: you can’t make anyone do these things. There is no correlation between traditional “push” management approaches — directives, power-based approaches, or even compensation and performance management, and people’s willingness to be a little more creative, more enthusiastic or service oriented with customers, to ponder the challenges they face with greater focus and energy, to be more emotionally contagious and proud.

Today, encouraging a greater number of people to go just a little bit further is the essential job of leaders. Long gone is the time when our primary management challenge was to ensure that workers performed tasks consistently and reliably, using standardized best practices. Now we need “pull” approaches, geared to encourage individuals to share their ideas more widely and constructively, to push the boundaries of what’s possible further — or to be more collaborative and innovative.

Statistics tell a striking story. The number of total goods-producing jobs — manufacturing, construction, extraction — has declined sharply in the U.S. economy, from 36% of all jobs fifty years ago to 15% today. In the service sector, the most rapid job growth has occurred in those areas demanding high levels of expertise or knowledge. Education and health-related jobs have gone from 5% of the U.S. economy in 1959 to 14% today. Professional and business services, from 7% to 13%.

While any work can benefit from the extra push of discretionary effort, consider the contrasting characteristics that add to the shifting management challenge: most manufacturing jobs need everyone to be in the same place at the same time; in-process activities can be easily inspected by a supervisor. Knowledge-based work can often be done virtually and asynchronously, making it difficult to judge an individual’s performance based on observation of the approach. Quality is often assessed only after completion, based on the product produced. While the work is in process, we count on the individual to give it their very best.

Consider your leadership approach against this changing template. Is your style likely to engage the “kindness of strangers?” What would you imagine a leader who was able to entice others to contribute greater levels of discretionary effort would do or be like?

Here are three characteristics that I’d put at the top of my list:

  • Interesting and intriguing — able to capture people’s imagination and create excitement about the task
  • Tolerant of ambiguity — open to considering a wide range of possible ideas and respectful of divergent points of view
  • Authentic — offering a consistent “deal” and delivering on commitments reliably

What would you add? What characteristics of a leader have prompted you to go that extra mile?

See the original post here, by Tammy Erickson @ Harvard Business Publishing