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  • No Manipulation Here – Trustworthy Leaders and Information Sharing

    Published on Tuesday, November 29, 2011

    During a recent discussion with two colleagues about the topics covered in my book The Trustworthy Leader, the question of manipulation came up. Over the years some people have charged that progressive management practices can be manipulative in that their goal is often to get people to work toward a goal that they might not initially intend to. Thus, the argument goes, the practices that cause this work must be manipulative for they are causing people to aim for a goal they are not consciously choosing.

    Manipulation has negative connotations as it brings to mind the use of deceptive practices to bring an undisclosed benefit to the manipulator based on the actions of the one being manipulated.  Even if the encouraged practices themselves are benevolent and the outcome for the participants is positive – people are healthier, safer or smarter – manipulation can be involved if the hoped for outcome is not shared with people ahead of time.

    To avoid manipulation great leaders seek to practice full disclosure – to let people know what they are asking for and why. When Trustworthy Leaders share information with others, there are three overarching aspects of the information sharing practices they use that help them to avoid even the hint of manipulation.

    First, they share information so that those on the receiving end can understand the information. This occurs before any action takes place – it is context setting. Some information sharing for understanding actually has no ‘action’ goal associated with it – it’s simply undertaken to ensure that people are aware of events in the organization that might at some point have an impact on their work or the larger work of the organization.

    Second, Trustworthy Leaders share information in such a way that others can participate - either in the information sharing process itself or in the life of the organization. This aspect of information sharing does bring with it the possibility for action. Information is shared with people specifically so that when they do participate – in a discussion, as a member of a project team, when serving a customer - they can do so effectively.

    Finally Trustworthy Leaders share information with people so they can have influence. At this stage people are not only expected to act, but because of their actions they are expected to change the nature of what comes next – they will have influence.

    If you want to be seen as a Trustworthy Leader, sharing information in ways that support understanding, promote participation and extend influence will bring with it multiple benefits. You will enhance people’s engagement to the organization and their work; you will enhance your status as a trusted source of useful information; and you will create a positive, constructive environment for everyone – yourself included. And, all of these benefits can be fully disclosed ahead of time!

    For an interesting and concise discussion of the characteristics of manipulation see ‘Is Motivation Management Manipulative?’ By Raymond S. Pfeiffer in Moral Rights in the Workplace, Gertrude Ezorsky, Ed. ©1987 State University of New York Press

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