To Push, or to Pull


In business, you either manage people (push), or you lead people (pull).

For an example of which is more effective, a rope is often used as the defining metaphor.  You cannot push a rope, but you can pull it.  Therefore, it is better to lead people (pull) than to manage them (push).

This often referenced example too simplistic for me.

When it comes to thinking about how to push and how to pull, I like to think of a Radio Flyer red wagon.

The Little Red Wagon

Consider how these wagons are structured.  You start with the bed of the wagon which is the part the kids ride in.  Beneath that, you have two rear wheels that are fixed to roll in the direction that the bed is pointed.  These rear wheels do not turn right or left.


Then you have the two front wheels that roll in the direction of the handle used to pull the wagon. To go right, you pull the handle to the right, the front wheels turn to the right and the wagon rolls to the right.  The opposite is true to go left.

Pulling a wagon built like this is easy.


But what if you wanted to go backward.

It’s not nearly as easy as pulling, but it is doable.

To go backward you push the handle, and if you push perfectly in line with the wagon bed, you go straight back.  But if your push backward is slightly deviated from in line with the wagon bed, you will veer sharply right or left.

When going backward, the smallest movement of the wagon handle to the right or left exaggerates the amount of veering right or left because the wheels directing the turning movement are at the back of the direction you are going instead of at the front.

Furthermore, you are pushing a long handle, and the leverage of the handle turns the wheels exponentially more to the right or left than you intend.

It is possible to push a wagon backward, but it takes a greater level of skill to push it backward than to pull it forward.

Anyone with small children or grandchildren know exactly what I’m talking about.

Managing People

The Radio Flyer red wagon is the perfect analogy to managing people.


Pulling people along is easy.   They want to follow you, they are energized, and they are part of the process.  They are helping you manage, and they are motivated to go forward.


Pushing people is hard work. You have to make them do their job.  They become reluctant, reticent and resistant.  Every management action you take, you feel alone and forced to make your team go along with you.

But, circumstances occasionally dictate the need to push people. And just like the Radio Flyer red wagon, to be able to push people successfully takes a greater skill than to pull them.  And, any leaders who ‘push’ their employees without a true understanding of the delicacies of the process will not end up with a successful result.

The Bible

Both management styles are displayed in the Bible – which is why the Bible is such a great management resource.

The gentle nature of Jesus and His appeal to the people around Him allowed Him to pull His followers into understanding His message.  As an example of this pull management style, the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3-4.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.


On the other hand, Moses, being the great leader, he was, resorted to a push management style in convincing the Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt (Exodus 5-12). While Jesus demonstrated the ease in using the pull leadership style, Moses showed the difficulty in using the push leadership style.

Moses used all his skills of persuasion on Pharaoh and the Israelite, and then ultimately relied on the powers of God to finally get His people free. It took unending persistence and ten miracles to accomplish what God had charged Moses to do.


Knowing both styles are important for business leaders. When given a choice, always pull your employees along.  But when needed, do not be afraid to push your employees, but remember that to do so will need persistence and a delicate touch.