Home » Blog » Leadership » #80 First Rule of Leadership

#80 First Rule of Leadership

by Steven Cerri on January 20, 2009

The #1 leadership rule you need to know!”

Hello everyone!

If you were to pick one and only one leadership rule, I’ve put it in this blog. Everything else about leadership pales in comparison to this rule. I’ve devoted this blog and this week’s ezine/newsletter to just this topic.

We often hear the following definition of leadership:

“Leadership is the ability to get people to do what they don’t want to do”. Or some variation on that theme.

It’s wrong. Period.

That’s not the way human beings work.

Let’s get this really clear… it is impossible for a human being to do what they don’t want to do. We are not wired to do anything we don’t want to do. To act (or even to not act) requires “volition” which means it is impossible to do something that we don’t want to do.

Humans as coins.

Imagine that every human being is a coin. As we know, on one side of US coinage is a “head” or bust of a prominent historical figure and on the other side is something that is not a bust of someone and we call this a “tail”. If we use the analogy that human beings are like coins then each human being is motivated to move toward what they want (we can call this heads) or they are motivated to move away from what we don’t want (we can call this tails).

There is no in-between. We either move toward what we want or we move away from what we don’t want. Both are actions to do what we want to do. Neither one is a movement to do something we don’t want. Both are movements to do what we do want… either to gain or to avoid.

Leadership is NOT getting people to do something they don’t want to do.

Leadership is getting people to do something based on the possibility of an outcome or the fear of an outcome.

So which do you use?

Now here is the important point… there is a place for both motivations; moving towards and moving away from. In fact, there are certain people who prefer to be motivated by moving away from. They tend to be the people who believe their “glass is always half empty”.

So I’m not going to suggest that leaders ought never to motivate using a moving away from motivation. At times its useful. And there are people who will like it and respond to it.

However, I personally prefer to use a moving toward motivation strategy whenever possible. I have at times, used moving away from strategies in leadership, but rarely.

By far the most powerful, effective, inspiring, and successful forms of motivation are those that employ moving towards. This has been my experience.

So here is my final leadership rule now expanded into all its corollaries:

Leadership Rule. True great leadership is getting people to do something as a result of the excitement of achieving the possibility of an outcome or as a result of action prompted by avoiding the fear of an outcome.

Associated Corollaries

1. There is no such thing as “Leadership is getting people to do something they don’t want to do. It’s impossible for people to do what they don’t want to do.

2. People are in constant tug between moving toward and moving away from.

3. Great leaders know how to assess the best motivation strategy based on the individuals and the team psychology.

4. A combination of moving towards and moving away from can often be more effective than using any one mode.

5. Too much “moving away from” leadership tends to drain an individual or team of it’s energy and ultimately the team will disintegrate if too much moving away from strategy is employed.

6. The greatest creativity, possibility, and energy come from moving toward strategies.

If you have any comments please add them to the end of this blog. I’d be very interested in your ideas.

Have fun leading!

Be well,

Steven Cerri

P.S. If you want more information on this Rule visit this week’s newsletter where I go into much more detail about it. You can find it at: STCI January 19, 2009 Newsletter

Previous post:

Next post: