I was talking to my friend who’s a financial advisor the other day. He told me about wanting to convince someone to stay at his firm of about 90 people. In the past two years, they’ve been having labor shortages like everyone else.
He mentioned one of his employees quit his firm to work a government job. The former employee’s new government job is very stable, low intensity, type of work.
The person didn’t want to work in a dynamic environment anymore. It was too much pressure.
My friend asked, “What can you do to avoid this? And inspire people to stay at work?” It was more of a rhetorical question.
The truth is we can’t convince people to do anything, let alone convince them to stay in a job they can’t perform. Another friend experienced a similar situation. He runs a consulting firm and a new employee quit after three months because he felt like he wasn’t successful.
If we can’t convince people to do anything, what should we do instead?
Accepting people for who they are
When people talk about “convincing” someone to do something, like an employee or even a life partner, they usually mean changing that person to suit their needs. Because otherwise, they wouldn’t need convincing.
But trying to change people is a waste of time. People can certaintly change and learn, but that decision to make a change must come from within.
We all have a unique character with a unique set of strengths. When we’re looking for people to work with or hire, we can’t know whether it’s a good fit after a few conversations. It takes time to understand each other.
Plus, most people don’t have solid self-knowledge. They don’t know what they like and what they’re good at. For example, some people are born with an ability to learn better.
A recent study suggests that a person’s genes indeed affect their chances of success. In his research, Duke University School of Medicine professor Daniel Belsky said:
“We found that those who carried certain genetic variants—ones that had already been linked to educational attainment in other studies—hit developmental benchmarks earlier as children and held higher aspirations as teenagers.
Then, as adults, they attained more education, held more prestigious jobs, earned higher incomes, partnered with better-off mates, were more socially and geographically mobile, managed their money more effectively, and accumulated more assets. All of that does suggest our genes can affect our future.”
However, Belsky also acknowledged that basing our future success on DNA alone isn’t 100% reliable. I also don’t believe in a “success gene” or anything like that. What I do believe in is that some people have a natural talent for different things.
Some people are naturally great leaders, others are great mathematicians or designers, and so forth. But society often pressures us to get any job so we can earn a living. That’s how people end up in the wrong career.
There’s also evidence that people respond differently to stress. Some people can perform well under stress, others can’t.
Can we convince a person who loves a fast paced environment that’s full of pressure to take a job as a writer? As a writer, you’re mostly on your own and your days are pretty simple unless you’re a journalist who’s always working on deadline.
The reverse is also true. A person who thrives when there’s structure can’t reach their full potential in an industry or job that’s constantly changing.
You see, collaborating and creating teams is not about convincing each other. It’s about finding people who are a good fit with each other. If you waste your time on trying to convince people, you can never get the most out of yourself or your team.
Push vs pull leadership styles
One of my favorite novels is Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. It’s about a group of people who fight for fun. It’s a secret group that members aren’t allowed to talk about in public. And people who want to join are required to stand outside Fight Club’s headquarters for days.
During those days, Fight Club members verbally abuse and discourage the applicants. Most applicants can’t stand the abuse and leave. But a few remain. And those are the dedicated ones.
Fight Club is fiction and the abuse is stupid. But the point is this. They adopt a “push leadership” style. They make it very hard for people to join them. Just like elite military divisions or consultancy firms. It’s extremely hard to get in and during the process it continuously seems like they rather see you leave.
While I believe there are other ways of figuring out whether someone is a good fit or not, I don’t believe in a “pull leadership” style. That’s when leaders try hard to motivate and inspire people who can’t be inspired.
The Roman stoic philosopher, Musonius Rufus, chose his students in a similar manner. He often turned away would-be students to assess their intelligence. In Lectures and Sayings, Rufus wrote:
“Persuading lazy young men is as hard as catching cheese with a fish-hook. Intelligent young men are even more devoted to philosophy if you turn them away… A stone, because of its makeup, will return to earth if you throw it up in the air. Likewise, the more one pushes the intelligent person away from the life he was born for, the more he inclines towards it.”
If you really want something, you keep going until you get it. Good leadership is about acknowledging that.
It’s about finding the right people to work with. When you do that, you don’t have to convince someone to do things. They’ll just do it naturally.