As leaders, we each have our own approach to achieving goals. Some of us push our team to get on board and complete tasks, while some of us prefer to use more of a pull approach, providing necessary information and giving the team space to generate their own ideas.

So, which one of these methods is more effective: push or pull?

As is often the case, balance is key.

In a recent Harvard Business Review, psychometrician Joseph Folkman highlights the importance of leaders’ ability to both “push” and “pull” their teams. He defines pushing as “giving direction, telling people what to do, establishing a deadline, and generally holding others accountable.” He defines pulling as “describing to a direct report a needed task, explaining the underlying reason for it, seeing what ideas they might have on how to best accomplish it, and asking if they are willing to take it on.” But both push and pull are necessary to help teams reach their full potential.

What happens when we use too much “push” and not enough “pull”?

While pushing can be an effective way to hold teams accountable regarding productivity and deadlines, too much can create a tense atmosphere that leads to workplace dissatisfaction. Too much of an authoritative approach might motivate your team for the wrong reasons — with fear rather than the intrinsic desire to succeed. Applying more pull to leadership, on the other hand, can serve to increase inspiration and minimize intimidation.

What happens when we use too much “pull” and not enough “push”?

Since the pandemic has created so much uncertainty in the workplace, leaders have been prioritizing empathy more than ever. Which means that, as a leader, you might find yourself focusing on taking pressure off of reports. It may also mean that, while your team likely appreciates your flexibility and understanding, productivity and performance may be falling short. A situation that can signal you’re applying a bit too much “pull” and not enough “push” in your leadership approach.

To maximize our effectiveness as leaders, we must implement both push and pull methods. Pulling in our reports increases workplace satisfaction and improves employee sustainability, while pushing increases reports’ confidence in the company’s ability to meet its goals. The best leaders, studies show, are effective at doing both.

How can you strike a balance between “push” and “pull”?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to finding the right balance between push and pull styles. Leaders must pay attention to their employees’ unique abilities and strengths as contributors, and also adjust their approach depending on the specific tasks and deadlines a team is facing.

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