Moving People to Action Forum

What is the differe...
Clear all

What is the difference between leadership and manipulation/coercion?

7 Posts
5 Users
Topic starter

I am finding myself being pressured more and more to step up to the plate and start to show some leadership skills or navigate the consequences of not moving forward in the direction I seek which requires this of me.

Yet I struggle with this.  All of my life I have bent over backwards to avoid at all cost ever being a leader.  When I have led it was it out of complete force, fear, and a desperate anxiety, not by my own free choice because I thought I could help somehow.  And at those times I tried to get out of that position as fast as possible.

The reason leadership frightens me and scares me is because of the power it yields. Power dovetails leadership. There are leaders who abuse that power, whether by error or intent, which by doing so have caused great harm.  Abuse of power from leadership can affect harm upon one to all of humanity, and from one household, neighborhood, or community to our entire planet.   

If I am going to continue to be challenged by my peers to take a stand for my beliefs, and learn how to lead, I would like to know how does one become certain that they are leading in the right way and in the right direction? And how does one distinguish the difference between leadership and overpowering another persons freedoms, freewill for that matter, and their rights to make their own choices and decisions? 

What is the difference between leadership and manipulation? Because surely there is a great deal of value and good in one, and great deal of disservice and wrongdoing in the other. But truly, what is it that distinguishes the borders and boundaries between them?  It seems there is a fine line between them.  I would like to know what marks that line.  

This topic was modified 3 years ago by SheilaMCoughlin
Claudio Hernandez 22/02/2021 1:25 pm

Hi Sheila,
My own view about your comment: I think that leadership is a way to serve others. I personally try to make my team shine as much as possible, making myself questions such as:
- what are their motivations and what can I do to make them achievable?
- what can I do to make myself a better example for them?
- what tools I can give them so they can do their job more efficiently?
- are they in the right place working in my area/team? Sometimes being a good leader mean that you have to let go one for your best employees to ensure that they keep growing professionally and personally. I think that being selfish is incompatible with good leadership, and that your team growth is more important than anything (so make sure they have access to work opportunities!)

Also, I´m 100% honest of what I know and what I don’t, and what direction are we heading to.

I think that being honest and focusing on your team growth is the key for good leadership, and of course there is always room for improvement, but there is no place for manipulation.

All the best!

4 Answers
Posted by: @sheilamcoughlin

Would you go so far as to say that if as a leader the people in your organisation are not growing and developing under you there is a problem with your leadership? Or at least that is the first place to look? 

In Vistage we believe that a team can only grow as fast as the leader. We believe that a group leader should never ask anyone to explore a question that they themselves are not willing to explore.  

If a leader stops growing, the team... and the organisation will stop growing. In a small team it is quick. In a large global organisation it can take some time for the momentum to run out, but it will start to falter.

On Power (and the fear of wielding power)

There is a real fear of power. Nietzsche talked about the realisation of our personal power creating a dizzy feeling that he compared to the metaphor of standing on the edge of a tall cliff and feeling the exhilaration of the height and a great anxiety in realising that there is nothing to stop you jumping and falling to your death (he was more poetic).  

Many people prefer to tell themselves that they are powerless and that they need permission rather than feel the emotions and fear of realising that even though they may not have resources, they can be resourceful.

The worst use of Power

In the Organisation Behaviour courses at IESE Business School, one of the most powerful lessons that I took was that "The worst use of power is no use of power".  The worst thing you can do is have power and not use it.  

The question then is how do I get clear on what I will use power for?  How do I avoid the risk of losing focus on the cause and beginning to enjoy power for the sake of power?  "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" (don't know who said this, but it is powerful and true)...

If I am addicted to fame or status or validation, I will use power to further my status or fame.

It takes a lot of clarity to not be pulled off course. 


These are a few questions that help me navigate:
1. Is my approach one of inspiration or imposition? Is it leading by example or by force?
2. Are my actions illuminating or blinding? Do they help others become more autonomous or dependent on me?
3. Who will the outcomes benefit? Will they serve others or are they self-serving?

In hindsight, I see that I can move to and from the dark side without really noticing. The antidote to slipping into manipulation/coercion is introspection. Plenty introspection.

This post was modified 3 years ago by Tobias
Conor Neill 03/03/2021 5:41 pm

love this perspective Tobias. I do think that the key is that you spend some time thinking about the other person and what their objectives, desires, goals and growth needs are. If you start there, you are leading from a place of caring and curiosity.


I believe the difference between leadership and manipulation lies in your intention. If you are leading from a place of truth you guide from a place of authentic self-expression. I don’t see the argument being leadership vs manipulation. I think leaders definitely do have the ability to choose to be manipulative in their leadership style but how you lead ultimately comes down to what leadership style you want to embody. 

SheilaMCoughlin Topic starter 25/02/2021 4:16 pm

I see, leadership is and of itself not a noble pursuit, or on the other hand, a reason to be suspicious of another. It is only a vehicle to carry out a message that is seeking action. It is a neutral tool as it can be used to bring about any types of an outcome. I suppose that is where personal responsibility comes into the picture to be sure we are guiding messages of the right type of nature, that is if we want to lead people in a good direction. Therefore, gaining skills as a leader is good, but it is not a good in and of itself., Learning to be able to communicate well and clearly is also good. But we still need to take responsibility for what messages we are sending/sharing/distributing no matter how well-developed ones leadership skills are. Leaderships skills are critical because they have to be excellent to be effective, but what really makes a good leader is the very heart of their message. So would you say than that if I want to be a good leader, yes develop good leadership skills that would is non-negotiable, but be sure to have responsibly developed a good message or cause that I want to be a leader for? Or something like this.

Topic starter

Dear Claudio,

Thank you so much for your reply!  Wow that was an incredibly thorough framework you put into your response to my questions.  Yes!  Those are the concepts I was looking for the feelings I have but did not have the right questions for.

These are excellent questions to ask of myself if/as I find I am growing in the role I have as a leader. I love how these questions really do put the emphasis where it should be as concern for the other persons growth and development and that of the organization. 

Would you go so far as to say that if as a leader the people in your organization are not growing and developing under you there is a problem with your leadership? Or at least that is the first place to look? 

I am really looking into this now. I have a speech to give in the next few weeks on leadership.  I am still in the research and writing stage now.



Exit mobile version