Pull Don’t Push

New Rule: Pull Don’t Push

Question: Is it easier to push a wagon from behind with a load or pull a wagon from the front?  Most people I ask say it is easier to pull the wagon from the front with the handle than to push from behind. So, a quote I either saw, heard or made up is:  Pain Pushes until Vision Pulls. Next two questions are: What vision or idea pulls you to contribute? What causes you pain that pushes you away from an idea, policy, or process?

A few car manufacturers started making autos with front wheel drive years ago.  These were early adopters. Soon most were building automobiles with front wheel drive because of the traction, less wear and tear, and more efficiency.

Another way to look at this is the resistance you get from pushing things, especially people.  It may be just me but when I am pushed, depending upon the consequences and skills needed, I tend to push back, go silent, or go to my room and practice benign neglect.  As a football player and wrestler when being pushed, I pushed back.  It actually increased my resistance and resolve.

Newton’s Second Law is basically every force has an equal and opposite force.  OK, I was a physics major in college. I have to use this degree whenever possible.

In many cases, the same happens to educators when pushed to and past the limit.  You can only beat people up for so long and then learned helplessness sets in.  At that point, physical and emotional pressure makes no difference. On the other hand, when I am approached to join in and help, I tend to want to add my resources, skills, and creativity to the cause, assuming I believe in the outcome to accomplish and the people who I trust.

If there is a positive relationship with the leaders or organizers, that increases my interest in participating. Hmmmm, I bet this works in the classrooms too as well as for leaders in schools or districts.  A person that I value has an easier time enlisting my help than someone who has broken or injured the relationship. When somebody I trust pulls me into an assignment, it is much harder to resist.

Two questions for you as you think about people who have tried to enlist your help:

  1. What attracts you to a person or cause? Is it something that you just can’t say “No” to?
  2. What repels you and makes you want to stay away from a person? Trust, perhaps?

Similarly, two questions when you are in a leadership position:

  1. What do you do to attract people to your idea or vision?
  2. What gets in the way of attracting the right people to work on your team or idea with you?

In the 70s I was fortunate to work with Don Anderson, teacher, and Bill Manning, principal at Wayzata High School.  They were pioneers in developing and supporting groups in schools to help students stay straight after treatment for drug or alcohol addiction.  I was the assistant principal in charge of discipline and attendance for 1800 students.

Don began as an English teacher and was moved to a position as an alcohol and drug counselor. He initiated and led support groups and started seeing students who had been caught on campus using mood-altering chemicals.  Soon, one group wasn’t enough. Three were formed, then five by the third year.  There were ten of us, two adults in each group with about ten students.  One support group met each day of the week to handle the demand.  There was a halfway house within our boundary which sent between ten to twelve students which were enrolled in our school. We relied on the twelve steps and twelve traditions of AA to help guide and support students to stay chemically free in school and life.  The 11th tradition of AA is, ‘be a program of attraction, not promotion.’  The advice I have tried to follow since the late 70s.

So, my suggestion is:  Be a program of attraction, not promotion. Don’t try to sell something.  Attract others to your vision.  Those who are attracted to what you are trying to accomplish will help you refine and expand that vision to help more people.  Attracting others to something bigger than ourselves will get stronger bonds of commitment and continual improvement.

The Chinese philosopher Matsuo Basho said, Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.’  I suggest we start attracting students, staff, and community to a vision of learning.  Our need for learning is NOT going to stop. Get over it and Get On With It.


Shift Happens. If you don't adopt New Rules, drop the "f" in Shift!