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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Agenda - Less Push, More Pull Leadership

CEO Agenda

Less Push, More Pull Leadership

Paula Halewski

Pull leaders, aka inspirational leaders, use their vision and communication skills to create a sense of purpose and direction that inspires and motivates their followers. They focus on building relationships with their team members, understanding their needs and aspirations, helping them grow and develop as individuals, and establishing psychological safety and trust.

Push leaders, aka directive leaders, demand results and are more focused on achieving specific outcomes and goals. They are more directive in their leadership style, setting clear expectations and holding people accountable for meeting them. While this approach can be effective in certain situations, it can also lead to a lack of engagement and burnout among team members if they feel that they are being pushed too hard without sufficient support or recognition.

Pull leadership is often associated with transformational leadership, a style of leadership that seeks to inspire and empower followers to achieve their full potential. This type of leadership is especially important in today’s fast-paced, constantly changing business environment, where employees need to feel connected to a larger purpose and have the freedom to innovate and take risks to stay competitive.

Both Pull and Push leadership styles are needed, Push style sparingly however critical in certain situations. Agility is important. When psychological safety and trust are established from the Pull style, the Push style is understood by staff to be critical in that situation and they follow their trusted leader.

Research has shown that the Pull style enhances employee satisfaction, commitment, retention, efficiency, increased output, and better-quality work. Leaders who learn to Pull are more often in the high-performance category, yet many leaders admit they know how to Push better than Pull. Pull can be learned. 

Pros and Cons of the Push Leadership Style

Some of the key aspects of a Push leadership style involve giving clear and specific instructions to team members and holding them accountable for meeting performance standards and goals.

Push leaders give detailed direction including specific instructions and guidance to team members, outlining exactly what needs to be done and how it should be done. This may help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards a common goal.

Establishing a deadline is also important in Push leadership, as it provides a clear timeframe for completing tasks and helps keep everyone focused and motivated. Deadlines should be realistic and achievable, but also challenging enough to encourage people to work efficiently and effectively.

Push leaders hold others accountable by setting clear expectations for performance and following up to ensure that goals are being met. This means monitoring progress, providing feedback, and taking corrective action if necessary.

While a Push style can be effective in certain situations, it can also have drawbacks if overused or applied inappropriately. For example, it can stifle creativity and innovation, and may not be appropriate in situations where team members have more expertise or experience than the leader. 

The Pros and Cons of the Pull Leadership Style

One of the key aspects of Pull leadership is actively including team members in decision-making and problem-solving processes.

Pull leaders describe the needed tasks, clearly outlining what needs to be done and why it’s important, and how it fits into the larger picture. This helps ensure that everyone is aware of the purpose and scope and motivates team members to work towards a common goal, increasing engagement and commitment.

Pull leaders seek ideas about how best to do the task and actively solicit input and ideas from team members about how the task can be completed most effectively and efficiently. This promotes safety and trust, generates creative solutions, and encourages buy-in from team members.

They also seek volunteers or gauge interest from team members about who is willing and able to take on the task. This ensures that team members are motivated and engaged and helps prevent resentment or burnout.

A Pull leadership style is effective in situations where team members have expertise or experience that the leader does not, or where creativity and innovation are valued. However, it can also be time-consuming and may not be appropriate in situations where a decision needs to be made quickly. As such, it’s important for leaders to be agile and able to adjust their leadership style to suit different situations and team dynamics.

What Does a Pull Leader Do Well? Part 1

It’s not one particular attribute, skill, habit, or behavior that makes a Pull leader but rather a combination and the agility to know when to use them. 

We’ll review skills and specific behaviors to enhance your agility and lean into the Pull leadership style. 

Skill #1: Sponsors Innovation

Innovation is the development of new ideas, products, services, or processes that can create value for an organization. Fostering innovation involves creating an environment in which creativity and experimentation are encouraged and supported.

Some key behaviors of this skill:

  1. Encouraging creativity: Leaders encourage team members to think creatively and generate new ideas. They provide opportunities for brainstorming, collaboration, and experimentation, and they value diverse perspectives and approaches.
  2. Embracing risk-taking: Innovation often involves taking risks and trying new things. Leaders are comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, and they encourage their team members to take calculated risks and learn from both successes and failures.
  3. Providing resources and support: Innovation requires resources, support, and infrastructure. These leaders provide their team members with the tools, technology, and resources needed to experiment and innovate, and they create a supportive environment in which innovation can thrive.
  4. Celebrating success: Leaders celebrate and recognize the successes and achievements of their team members. They provide positive feedback and recognition for creative ideas and innovative solutions, which encourages continued innovation and experimentation.

By sponsoring innovation, leaders promote long-term vision, keeping staff engaged and motivated while aligning with the organization’s vision and competitive edge.

What Does a Pull Leader Do Well? Part 2

Skill #2: Reach Goals

Establishing reach goals is a key aspect of Pull leadership that encourages high performance and continuous improvement. These goals are challenging and require individuals or teams to stretch beyond their current abilities or comfort zones to achieve them.

Leaders who establish reach goals encourage their team members to drive themselves to achieve more than they thought possible. By setting ambitious goals, leaders help team members develop new skills, build confidence, and experience a sense of accomplishment and pride in their work.

Some key behaviors of this skill:

  1. Setting challenging goals: Leaders set goals that are challenging but achievable. These goals should be difficult enough to require significant effort and focus, but not so impossible that they discourage or demotivate team members.
  2. Providing support and resources: Achieving these goals requires support and resources. Leaders provide their team members with the tools, training, and support needed to succeed, and they remove any obstacles or barriers that may prevent them from achieving their goals.
  3. Encouraging risk-taking: Reach goals often require taking risks and trying new things. Leaders encourage their team members to take calculated risks and to experiment with new approaches and ideas.
  4. Celebrating progress: Leaders celebrate progress and success along the way. They provide positive feedback and recognition for efforts and accomplishments, which encourages continued effort and commitment.
  5. Providing feedback and coaching: Achieving these goals requires ongoing feedback and coaching. Leaders provide regular feedback and coaching to their team members, and they help them to identify areas for improvement and to learn from their mistakes.

By establishing reach goals, leaders encourage their team members to strive for excellence and to continuously improve their skills and abilities. This can lead to increased motivation, engagement, and productivity, and contribute to the long-term success of the organization.

What Does a Pull Leader Do Well? Part 3

Skill #3: Promotes Teamwork

Leaders create an environment in which individuals are encouraged to work together to achieve shared goals. 

Some key behaviors of this skill:

  1. Encouraging open communication: Leaders encourage open and honest communication among team members. They create opportunities for team members to share their ideas, thoughts, and concerns, and they listen actively to what others have to say.
  2. Building trust and respect: Teamwork is based on trust and respect. Leaders build strong relationships with their team members, and they create an environment in which everyone feels valued and respected.
  3. Fostering a sense of ownership: Teamwork is most effective when team members feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for their work. Leaders encourage team members to take ownership of their work and to contribute their unique skills and expertise to the team.
  4. Celebrating success: Teamwork requires effort and dedication from everyone involved. Leaders celebrate the successes and accomplishments of their team members, and they provide positive feedback and recognition for their hard work and contributions.
  5. Tie recognition/praise to team goals: When recognizing team efforts, it’s important to tie them to team goals rather than individual goals. This can help to reinforce the importance of collaborative teamwork and encourage team members to work together towards shared objectives.
  6. Use team-based rewards: Team-based rewards, such as bonuses or team outings, are effective in promoting teamwork. These rewards can be based on team performance, rather than individual performance, and can help to create a sense of shared responsibility and motivation.

By promoting teamwork, leaders create a culture of cooperation and mutual support, leading to improved communication, increased creativity, and better problem-solving. 

What Does a Pull Leader Do Well? Part 4

Skill #4: Excellent Communicator

Effective communication is a critical skill for Pull leaders, and communicating powerfully is an important aspect of that. When leaders communicate powerfully, they articulate their ideas clearly and persuasively, and connect with their audience on an emotional level. 

Some key behaviors for this skill:

  1. Develop a strong message: Before communicating, leaders take the time to develop a strong message that is clear, concise, and compelling. They identify the key points they want to convey and craft a message that resonates with their audience.
  2. Use storytelling: Stories can be a powerful way to connect with an audience and convey a message in a memorable way. Leaders use personal anecdotes or examples to illustrate their points and help their audience understand the importance of what they are saying.
  3. Use body language and tone: Nonverbal communication can be just as important as verbal communication when it comes to conveying a message. Leaders use body language and tone to convey confidence, sincerity, and conviction, and to engage their audience on an emotional level.
  4. Listen actively: Powerful communication is not just about talking, it’s also about listening. Leaders listen actively to their audience and be responsive to their needs and concerns. By doing so, they can build trust and credibility and create a sense of connection.
  5. Use visual aids: As people have different learning styles, using visual aids, such as slides or videos, can be an effective way to reinforce key points and make a message more memorable. Leaders use visual aids sparingly and strategically, to support their message and enhance the audience’s understanding.

By communicating powerfully, leaders can inspire and motivate their audience, build trust and credibility, and achieve their goals more effectively. Whether it’s delivering a speech, leading a meeting, or engaging with employees, powerful communication is a skill for any leader and essential for a Pull leader.

What Does a Pull Leader Do Well? Part 5

Skill #5: Staff Development

Developing others is an essential skill for effective Pull leaders as it helps to build a strong and capable team, improve productivity, and promote career growth and development. 

Some key behaviors for this skill:

  1. Provide feedback: Leaders provide regular feedback to their team members, highlighting areas where they are doing well and growth areas. Feedback is specific, timely, and constructive, and focused on helping team members develop their skills and achieve their goals.
  2. Offer training and development opportunities: Leaders provide their team members with opportunities for training and development, such as workshops, conferences, and coaching. These opportunities help team members develop new skills and enhance their existing ones and contribute to their career growth and development.
  3. Delegate tasks and responsibilities: Leaders delegate tasks and responsibilities to their team members, allowing them to take on new challenges and develop new skills. Delegating also helps to build trust and confidence in team members and improve their sense of ownership and accountability.
  4. Provide mentorship: Leaders provide mentorship to their team members, offering guidance, support, and advice as they navigate their careers. Mentoring helps team members develop new skills and perspectives and provides valuable insight and feedback on their performance and development.
  5. Encourage learning and growth: Leaders encourage their team members to learn and grow, both professionally and personally. Leaders promote a culture of continuous learning and development, providing resources and support for personal and professional growth, and recognizing and rewarding team members who take the initiative and pursue new opportunities.

By developing others, leaders build a strong and capable team, improve productivity, promote career growth and development, and enhance employee engagement and retention. Whether it’s providing feedback, offering training and development opportunities, or encouraging learning and growth, developing others is an essential skill for effective leadership.

What Does a Pull Leader Do Well? Part 6

Skill #6: Strategic Mindset

Developing a strategic mindset is a critical skill for leaders as it helps them to anticipate and respond to changes in the business environment and make decisions that are aligned with their organization’s goals and objectives. 

Some key behaviors of this skill:

  1. Understand the big picture: Leaders have a clear understanding of their organization’s vision, mission, and values. This helps them to see the big picture and align their decisions with their organization’s overall strategy.
  2. Align efforts: Leaders align individuals’ and teams’ efforts with vision, mission, and values of the organization. This helps all to row in the same direction while promoting reach goals and development.
  3. Analyze trends and data: Leaders analyze trends and data to identify opportunities and threats in their business environment. This can help them to anticipate changes and make strategic decisions that will benefit their organization.
  4. Focus on long-term goals: Leaders focus on long-term goals and think about how their decisions will impact their organization in the future. This helps them to prioritize their actions and make decisions that will contribute to the long-term success of their organization.
  5. Collaborate with stakeholders: Leaders collaborate with stakeholders, such as customers, employees, and partners, to understand their needs and perspectives. This helps with developing a more strategic perspective and making decisions that are aligned with the needs of their stakeholders.
  6. Embrace innovation: Leaders embrace innovation and are willing to take calculated risks to drive their organization forward. This helps them to stay ahead of the competition and develop a more strategic perspective on the future of their organization.

By developing a strategic mindset, leaders make informed decisions that align with their organization’s stakeholders, goals, objectives, success, and competitive edge.

What Does a Pull Leader Do Well? Part 7

Skill #7: Coaching Mindset

A coaching mindset is a way of thinking and approaching situations with the intention of supporting and developing individuals to achieve their goals. It involves being curious, non-judgmental, and empathetic towards others, while also being able to provide guidance, feedback, and accountability.

Some key behaviors of this skill:

  1. Listening: Leaders actively listen by paying attention to what the other person is saying and try to understand their perspective.
  2. Curiosity: They are curious and ask questions to help who you are coaching to explore their own thoughts and ideas.
  3. Empathy: Leaders understand and appreciate the other person’s feelings and emotions and being able to put yourself in their shoes.
  4. Supportive: They are supportive and encouraging, helping who you are coaching build their confidence and take positive steps towards their goals.
  5. Non-judgmental: Leaders are non-judgmental, accepting the person as they are without criticizing or judging them.
  6. Accountability: They hold who you are coaching accountable for their actions and helping them to stay on track towards their goals.

By adopting a coaching mindset, Pull leaders help others to achieve their full potential, build positive relationships, and create a more collaborative and supportive environment.

What Does a Pull Leader Do Well? Part 8

Skill #8: Emotional Intelligence

You likely noticed some of the first seven skills’ individual behaviors overlap and an ever-present theme of relational skills. Relational skills have a clear and direct correlation with emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ refers to a person’s ability to recognize, understand, and manage their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. It involves a set of skills that enable individuals to navigate social situations and build relationships effectively.

Some key behaviors of this skill:

  1. Self-awareness: Leaders can recognize and understand one’s own emotions, strengths, and weaknesses.
  2. Self-regulation: They can control and manage one’s own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in a positive way.
  3. Social awareness: Leaders can understand and empathize with the emotions of others, as well as to read social cues and understand group dynamics.
  4. Relationship management: They can communicate effectively, build and maintain positive relationships, and work well in teams.

Emotional intelligence is an important skill for personal and professional success. It has been linked to better mental health, higher job performance, and stronger relationships. The skills and behaviors of emotional intelligence permeate every aspect of leadership, and effective Pull leaders are especially adept.

Case Example

My fellow coach and friend, Tony (Anthony M. Davis), gave me a wonderful example of agility using both Pull and Push styles when discussing this article. Tony was in the Coast Guard for many years. He describes the Coast Guard as having a Pull leadership style, including his own leadership style. Here’s Tony’s story:

“One example of that (agility) was onboard my last Coast Guard Cutter. By creating a safe environment, helping my folks build confidence and proficiency, we had built trust. The night of the TWA-800 crash, I was the watch officer and took that radio call. We were the immediate unit on scene and needed to instantly switch modes and develop search and recovery plans, while maintaining air and surface exclusion areas. Because a healthy Pull existed, it was a natural transition to a Push scenario. I needed a lot done right away. That played out over the years. Building the Pull, allowed an easier Push.”

Given that the Pull style enhances employee satisfaction, commitment, retention, efficiency, increased output, better-quality work, psychological safety, and trust, it’s prudent to strengthen these skills and practice Pull behaviors. In the environment created with the Pull style, when Push is needed, it’s understood as necessary.

The wonderful thing about skills and behaviors is they can be learned. Neuroscience has taught us much, including that people learn and grow at every age.


Written by Paula Halewski.
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Agenda - Less Push, More Pull Leadership
Paula Halewski
Paula Halewski, ACC, LCSW, MBA - Coaching since 2016, Paula is the founder of and principal coach at the Leadership Institute of Virginia (LIV). She is a certified Executive Leadership Coach from Georgetown University and credentialed by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She holds a Masters in Clinical Social Work from New York University and is a licensed therapist (LCSW) and an Executive Masters of Business Administration from the University of Rochester Simon Business School. She is a published author and an active speaker and facilitator across the USA. She holds certifications behavioral & emotional intelligence, team development, culture, and is a life-long learner committed to growth in knowledge and skills.


Paula Halewski is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website CLICK HERE.