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Coercive Power Undermines Trust

During a heated discussion, a mother says to her daughter, “Sit down.” The tone and volume make it clear that this is a demand. The daughter puts her hands on her hips and stares back without any movement downward. The mother then moves a step closer and says even more harshly, “I said, sit down.” The daughter shakes her head and looks down in disgust, again without budging. The mother pulls her shoulders back, stands tall, and screams, “Sit your ass down!” The daughter complies, slowly inching down to sit in the chair directly behind her. The daughter looks up and says to the mother, “I want you to know something. On the outside, I’m sitting down, but on the inside, I’m standing UP!” 

Such is the nature of coercive power when applied by leaders of any type. Coercive power always produces resistance and undermines trust in the relationship. 

This is true even when leaders can’t witness the resistance. Find a coercive parent with compliant children, for example, and you will learn they have to be in the room to compel action. When they are absent, the children go wild in their temporary freedom. This happens in offices, plants, and athletic fields, as well. 

Leaders employ coercion because it works. In the short-term. In the end, those leaders will suffer the consequences: relationships with less respect and trust. When leaders frequently deploy coercive power to compel action, they become stuck in a truly potent, vicious circle. The only tactic that works in the future is more coercion and threat. 

That’s why the best leaders use coercive power only as a last resort when nothing else can move another forward. Strive to be better than tactics that may provide short-term solutions but long-term negative repercussions. Everyone, including you, will be better for it.  

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