What are Pull Factors?

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt pressed to do something?  Where you felt like you were backed into a corner on a decision that you were asked to make?  Has anyone ever put you on the spot to answer a question you may not have an answer to?    How did you feel in those moments?  What actions did you take?

The questions listed above are things I encounter in my current role as an educational leader and I am sure that others at different levels of leadership feel the impact of the outside pressures on the decision they make everyday.

Personally, I had this happen to me today.  I received an email from a stakeholder, lets call him Bob.  Bob says the following in his email(paraphrase), “All the schools in our division will have access to a digital resource for reading, and I was wondering if you will be providing all of us a similar resource for mathematics?”  The wording of the request was stuck in my head, especially because the email started off by pointing out what another department was doing.  It made me feel like I was letting them down if I wasn’t doing the same as the other department. It made me feel as if I was not being fair by not providing the resource.  It made me feel pressured to take the same action as another department.

Why even mention them? What was the point?  On a side note:  I probably should not read emails when I can’t do anything about it, but I felt compelled to answer.  How would I answer?  I didn’t want to say yes, however I felt this sense of guilt for a second and I questioned my own sense of being fair.  Have you ever felt that way?

Then I remembered a book I am reading.  In the book, The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact, Michael Fullan talks about the “pull factor.”  He describes this feeling as the outside forces that impact a principal’s day to day decision.  He also emphasizes how vital it is for a principal to be able to effectively navigate these muddy waters.

You might be asking, what are some examples of outside forces?

We make decisions everyday, especially where outside forces that pull at our thinking.  For example, if you have set an intention that eating healthy is part of your lifestyle, and someone in your school brings in desserts (cookies, cake, etc…).  You walk in the room and your colleague says, “I just made this dessert for everyone today, you should have a piece its delicious.”  What do you do?  Do you go get some because everyone else is getting it?  Do you decide not to get any at all and avoid the area?  Do you tell them no and potentially hurt their feelings?  To me this is just one example of an outside force.  The temptation of the item that someone else brought to your attention, so how do you make the decision on whether or not to eat the dessert?

In the education leadership world, this pull can be identified as any new opportunity.  One thing that I regularly get asked is to do is to evaluate new programs.  I get vendors coming to me constantly requesting a meeting for a new product that will be great for students and teachers.  Although these products might be good and I am sure they could all help in some way,  I know that jumping around from resource to resource would not be productive for anyone.  So, I have to decide to balance the evaluation of new resources with the priorities I set as a leader for the year.  The situation can become complex, as you may want to take the leap, however you can’t just do everything that comes to your attention, so what do you do?

Other examples of request are from parents.  Parents are great advocates for their child, which I believe is appropriate, and typically the parent doesn’t want the child to miss an opportunity.  So, a request from a parent could be about the child’s current class placement.  Typically the parent may say, “My child should be in this class because they are bored in the current class and need more of a challenge.”  As I hear the request, I sometimes feel I pressure to find the appropriate placement for the child and that if I don’t listen to the parent this could cause a negative relationship to form, which I don’t want to happen.  How could you navigate these muddy waters?

Request such as these can be tricky because of the pull to serve versus the balance of relationships.  As a leader, I am to support the community in which I serve, however I must have a plan for how I feel I can serve the community to the best of my ability.  I feel an obligation to fix the problems or meet the request because I want to be as helpful as possible.  Is feeling the need to fix the problem what I need to be feeling? If fixing the problem is my “job,” then how can I balance meeting the needs of others(outside noise) with reaching my goals?  I had to change my mindset to realize that I wasn’t really fixing problems of others, I was creating dependency and overwhelming myself at the same time.

So, how can you handle the outside noise?

Here’s the process that works for me.

The process is (RCSF):

  1. Reflect
  2. Connect
  3. Select
  4. Forget

Each letter represents the mental steps that I take when I am making a decision.   Here is how it works, I ask myself a series of questions:

Reflect –  A reminder of the larger purpose – What is my goal?  

I believe my role as a leader is to identify the things that fit with my larger goals. If I forget to check my vision, I feel as if I am just doing a bunch of random things, which leaves me feeling busy and not productive.  Very frustrating!!  I know that I don’t want to be doing things without a clear purpose.

Connect- Criteria used in decision – How does this fit into my goal?

The next thing I consider is my criteria for making the decision. My task is to be able to see a connection between the criteria I use and the goal.  One technique I try, is to think of these criteria prior to the situation.  If you haven’t noticed, we do this every moment of everyday.  For example, when I decide on which outfit I want to wear, I want to match, look professional, and feel good about myself (that’s my criteria).

Same thing goes for educational leadership.  If I am selecting new resources one of my criteria would be the need for an online component before I even consider the resource.  I believe it is an effective practice to check all your decisions against your predetermined criteria.  You are using the same techniques with every decision of your day, so try to apply this to your leadership role.   If the criteria I am using to decide does not connect to my goal, then I need to either use new criteria or come up with a new goal before I decide.

Select – Say YES or NO – What is my decision?

My decision is based on my reflection and connection.  If they align, then I will say “YES” and if they do not align I say “NO”.  It’s just that simple for me.  The ability to decide becomes easier and less agonizing for me, and I feel more confident that I am making the best decision for me at that moment.

Forget –  Do not harp on the decision – What are my next steps?

Once, I make the decision I try not to think about it either way.  I know sometimes we all regret a decision (I shouldn’t have eaten that cookie!).  Honestly, it can be a challenge, however I feel better if I know that I have evaluated the request to the best of my ability.  Another thing to consider, if you are worried that the decision wasn’t the right decision, you can always make another decision later.  We all have the power of choice!!

At this point you might be asking:

What if you don’t have any criteria and the situation is new?

My recommendation is to consider the following rule, “Say No First.” This is a idea from Brendon Burchard, who urges that this tactic is critical to the pursuit of your reaching your goals.  What if the person gets upset?  I usually say, “Let me think about it and I will get back to you.”    A softer approach usually does the trick.  Just make sure you get back to the person with a decision.  People don’t like to be left in the dark.

I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical at first, but it really works because it gives me time to check the request against my criteria.  Also, I get an opportunity create criteria for the situation next time, thus learning a valuable lesson.

Be True to Yourself

The big idea to me is the importance of not comparing your path to the path of anyone else.  I think we get caught up in the idea of being better than the next person, school, or nation, which can cause us to get off the path of our goals.  Instead, consider your own goals, and how you might compete against yourself?  Get better at the things you feel are important!  If you set your own path, I promise you will feel more excited about what you do..  I know personally, as I see growth in my abilities, I have a more positive outlook on everything.

In conclusion, as an educational leader you have to expect many requests(pulls) to part of your role daily, and a large aspect of your role will be taking responsibilities for those decisions.  Your personal expectation to be responsive to the request of others will pull at you over and over again.   You may feel that you are letting others down by not meeting their demands.  The process to decide how you will respond may be overwhelming.  Just remember, you get to choose, so choose the things that fit with your goal, and try to avoid letting the trap of comparison effect the choices you make.

Now, I am interested in your thoughts.  What strategies might you use to manage the outside (pull factor) forces?  Please share your thought in the comment section below.  Also if you liked something that I shared, please let me know, so I can learn what was most valuable to you!




Burchard, B. (2015, February 28). How to stay focused.  Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhbYBb0huMs

Fullan, M. (2014). The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass


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