Flipping the Switch – Motivation vs Manipulation

The department manager stepped up to the sales desk, dropped a file on it, and said to Phil the salesman, “Take care of this right now.”

Phil objected, “We have already discussed this customer. She has refused to comply with local zoning laws. We cannot proceed with this because she won’t do what has to be done and we cannot make an illegal installation.”

“No, you need to go ahead with this now. The store needs the sale.”

“But I already said we cannot make the sale because the customer refuses to comply with zoning laws and we have no control over the laws.” Phil picked up a stack of files and showed them to the DM. “Here are files representing $35,000 in sales I need to process tonight. these are sure sales. This other one I told you is not.”

“Don’t you care about the store’s sales numbers?” the DM argued.

I’ll stop right there because it clearly illustrates this next principle. The task under discussion had nothing whatsoever to do with care for the store’s numbers. The DM was trying to manipulate him by introducing a shame factor. “Don’t you care…?” Care is not the issue. Intelligence, reason, and logic are. It should be obvious that any salesman who pursues certain sales for $35,000 and forsakes one DOA cares about the store. Phil wanted to bring in real money, not pursue a certain fail.

The difference between motivation and manipulation is not readily seen in the objectives. The desired end result for both is usually the same.

It is the means of getting there that differ and differ widely.

Motivation’s attitude is that of influence, but manipulation’s attitude is that of control.

While the objective of leadership and management is to efficiently produce a particular outcome within a specified amount of time, the means whereby this is accomplished varies greatly.

The type of direction and instruction you give and depth of your involvement in giving it depends on the competence and commitment of the one(s) with whom you work. (I will discuss and illustrate this within this series.)

But there is one more variable. This variable is the continuum between manipulation and motivation.

On one end, the manipulator distrusts people, believes they cannot and will not perform properly without direction, oversight, and monitoring.

On the other end, the motivator knows that true independence of action in accordance with predefined objectives is quite reasonable and probable.

The motivator understands that the strength of his or her leadership comes from influence not control. Motivators desire long-term effectiveness more than they want short term efficiency. Manipulators must have control. Motivators function in faith, manipulators in fear. Motivators care for people as much or more than they care for getting things done. Manipulators care for people too, but in the clinch, will allow their task orientation to over-ride concern and focus on the job. Taking everything into consideration, motivators are always more effective than manipulators.

A manipulator is usually more effective than a motivator… in the beginning. Their direct, hands-on approach produces an economy of effort that is hard to beat. But over time, as skills and attitudes or employees and associates mature, manipulators tend to fall behind because of a rising tide of resentment within those they work with and because they tend to attract and retain only those that both need and like to be controlled. After awhile, truly competent workers, the kind that can really extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work begin to regard the manipulator’s help as an intrusion. Then they see it as meddling. Ultimately they consider it to be an insult, an indicator of mistrust, which of course it is.

If you are at heart a manipulator, the people who can best enable you to eventually reach the outer limits of your circle of concern with the least effort on your part walk out of your life, and off the job, usually forever. Sometimes the manipulated will explode first, reacting forcefully to the manipulator. Usually the manipulator won’t see it coming.

Why do they explode? Because manipulators neither enabled them to perform the tasks at hand nor empowered them to do it. Everything, or almost everything the manipulated associate does, should do, or could do is tied directly or indirectly to the one doing the manipulating. Manipulators control and bind. Motivators empower and release.

The manipulator thus engages in self-limiting behavior. He doesn’t really trust people to be able to do what needs to be done, so he over-controls the person and their actions by defining too specifically what needs to be done, explaining in too much detail how to do it, or monitoring their work too closely. Those workers who can and do grow in their ability to handle responsibility become increasingly frustrated at the lack of autonomy in their work and they correctly target the manipulator as the source.

Why did the manipulator not see the explosion coming? Because manipulators usually measure their effectiveness and well-being in terms that they, the manipulator, values – amount of effort applied in the shortest time accomplishing the most tasks. Manipulators focus on everything other than the people they work with. The people with whom they work are tools, instruments of achievement in the hands of the manipulator. If things are being done and getting finished, well then, all’s well in the kingdom. If not, then heads must roll.

I cannot emphasize this enough. If you are experiencing high turnover in your workforce or workplace, you might want to look at the method, manner, and attitudes of those who manage and lead, yourself included. There are, of course, other reasons for high turnover, but none so common and so deadly as this.

Over time, the manipulator’s effectiveness and efficiency diminishes because he or she spends too much time planning, organizing, training, and controlling the actions and behavior of those they work with. So less and less gets done. The manipulator can’t do his or her job because they feel they must plan, organize, train, and control everyone else’s efforts to do their job. The worker has to continually respond to the intrusions of the boss. The manipulator’s reach is shortened, his/her work is actually multiplied, and his/her effectiveness is divided. Sometimes they decide it would be better to do less by themselves than to have to do their own work and that of their co-workers too. They thought they were trying to light a fire under others but they actually smothered it.

Motivators, on the other hand, are often less efficient in the beginning. They have learned to read another’s ability, determine with reasonable accuracy their potential, structure their involvement with an effective mix of direction and autonomy, and let their leadership become that of influence rather than control.

This indeed takes more time in the beginning, but yields far greater results in the end. People who need to be controlled and need a great deal of interaction with you will become frustrated and probably leave your employ. This is not all bad.


Because you need people who can think and act independently within the focus of your objectives. With them, you can reach farther, accomplish more, and work less. True enough you will likely need to invest more time initially in the process of developing capable people, but time invested now in people of potential pays big dividends.

Later this week I will explore seven general motivators and seven general demotivators. See you on Thursday.

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