Most of us agree – leadership is influence. And there are times when influence morphs into down-right-out manipulation.
At it’s core leadership involves change. After all, what are we leading people to do? To be? Yet there’s a fine line between leadership and manipulation.
Both involve influencing others. Both attempt to persuade people to do what you want them to do. Both leverage vision, passion, and emotion to elicit a desired result.
So how do you know if you are leading or manipulating?
Pro’s and Con’s
To complicate matters, there are positive and negative aspects of manipulation. Manipulation can positively influence by skillfully treating with one’s hands or by mechanical means such as manipulating fragments of a broken bone into correct position.
More commonly, manipulation involves negative influence, especially in an unfair manner such as manipulating one’s feelings.
It’s this negative manipulation which goes beyond influence to controlling people and environments. Many manipulators live in denial never realizing they’ve crossed the fine line from leadership to manipulation.
Everybody’s Doing It!
All leaders, at one time or another, have manipulated those they lead. Many do it regularly. And most find it difficult to admit this tendency.
I’ve learned that healthy leaders regularly consider:
- Am I threatened when my team members stray from the vision? How do I respond?
- Do I have a tendency to shift things back in my favor?
When leaders acknowledge that negative manipulation is a real threat to their influence, they can take steps to eliminate these behaviors.
To determine if you are leading or manipulating, ask yourself: Why am I doing this?
Are you looking out for yourself or are you serving others? Are you following your own agenda or helping others to realize their potential and fulfill their dreams?
Your underlying motivation reveals whether you are leading or manipulating.
When selfishness or self-preservation are present, it’s easy to become a manipulator. Sometimes the behaviors are subtle. Sometimes they’re blatant. Either way, when leadership evolves into manipulation, relationships and organizations suffer.
So are you leading or just being manipulative?
Here are 4 groups that are negatively impacted by manipulation…
1. The Manipulated
Manipulated people become hurt, disillusioned, and discouraged. As a result, their ability to lead and perform at a high level is damaged.
2. The Witness
When we experience the negative influence of a leader toward a colleague, we become wary of all leaders. Maybe we shouldn’t – but we do.
Those who witness manipulation find it difficult to trust leaders. They carry self-protective attitudes forward into future relationships. And this painful experience causes them to withdraw from healthy leaders who could positively influence of lives and work.
3. The Organization
It’s not long before the organization suffers. Collaboration, problem solving, and decision-making are all diminished.
The result? Inadequate decisions. Inappropriate behaviors. Poor performance. Over time manipulative leadership will threaten the stability of any organization.
4. The Manipulator
A manipulating leader will never reach their full potential. They simply cannot grow and will never experience the satisfaction that comes from serving others.
And they deserve it, right?
Not so fast – he may be you! Every leader is naturally self-absorbed. Executive Coach Raymond Gleason said recently:
I’ve never met a leader who couldn’t benefit from more humility.
Question: How have you seen a leader manipulate others? What were the effects? How do you guard against becoming manipulative? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Article by Michael Nichols
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