Leadership: Are You Pushing or Squeezing?

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Over the years, I have interacted with thousands of people. Because I have such a keen interest in people and what makes us tick, I often listen to conversations with “two sets of ears.”
One set is listening to what is being said, how it is being said, and why it is important to the person who is saying it. After all, I lead workshops that use active-listening techniques to improve communication, so it would not look good if I did not actively listen.
When it comes to conversations about work and business—or really any situation where there is a hierarchy or leadership—I am also listening with “another set of ears” that is searching for the distinction as to why people will do what they are being asked to do by their boss or leader.
The particular distinction (of which there are many) I’d like to address here is that of being pushed or squeezed. Pushed to be more or having more squeezed out of them? I’d like to examine this in a way that will empower leaders to be better.
As a manager or boss in an organization, it is often your responsibility to effectively manage your department to become as profitable and as productive as possible. Of course, there are many ways to increase profitability. However, the only one I will address in this article is performance: getting more production from your man-hours. In a simplified model, if you get more production from your group of people, then you are, in theory, paying less for whatever is produced by that group. This lowers the cost and increases the profit. The simple economics of increased productivity is what every good manager should look at and also try to find ways to increase that productivity. At a certain point, you have to understand whether you are pushing your people toward greater results or squeezing every penny out of their efforts.
Now, I am sure there are many people who will read this and think, “That’s what I am supposed to do—get the most out of my people for the least amount of money.” From a purely dollars-and-cents perspective, they would be right. But this is the question that I want to ask, are you pushing or squeezing? The distinction between the two might be imperceptible from the viewpoint of bosses. Especially, if what they are most focused on are short-term profits. The difference may also escape employees who are comfortable or lazy. When they are pushed to be better or squeezed to give more, they become angry because what once was considered good is no longer deemed good enough.
So, what makes the difference between the two? I contend that most of us appreciate being pushed to be better. Someone who sees a greater potential inside us—and helps to push it out of us by not accepting our self-imposed limitations—is an inspiring leader. Those leaders know what to say, how to say it, and, more importantly, how to conduct themselves so that their actions as leaders inspire us to be better and to do more. This is what I mean by being pushed.
Remember that teacher, coach, mentor, drill instructor, friend, or parent who pushed you? Many times it was not fun at the moment, but you knew the intent was for your own betterment and for the good of the overall project/team/company. In the end, you appreciated being pushed because it is what you needed in order to be better.
Conversely, being squeezed is about getting more out of you, with no regard for your betterment. In this situation, resources are often withheld, along with acknowledgement of a job well done. You are told to do more, without some of the basic resources. These diktats are often delivered by bosses who do not possess the leadership skills to know how to inspire more from someone. And, many times, those bosses themselves are incapable or unwilling to do more than the bare minimum. Sometimes, squeezing can be the result of the company culture. When a company does not care about the long-term success of its people, it may look at it as a squeeze-or-be-squeezed situation, which promotes a very low-performing environment.
At the end of the day, it seems that a company culture that values its people and believes in their success enough to push them toward excellence would be good for everyone and good for the bottom line. Whether or not you want one, each company has a culture. The question should be, is it the culture of your choosing? And, once you decide on an anti-squeezing culture, the next question is, do you have the leaders who have the skill to push people toward their best-possible, most-profitable, and rewarding performance? If not, then stop squeezing those leaders and give them the resources they need in order to be successful and effective leaders. Then, you can push them to be their best, and they can push others to do the same. That is what we call a triple win.

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