Have you Fallen into the Manipulation Trap?

Avoiding the Manipulation Trap

This weekend I was reading Simon Sinek’s famous book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action in which he talks about the idea of manipulation verses inspiration.

At a basic level, manipulators are more concerned with their personal well-being (fame, fortune, personal gain) than the good of the group. When you start with this outlook, manipulation becomes your default mode of operation which not only caps the limit of your influence (i.e. your leadership) but stunts the growth of your team.


He argues that people don’t often make a conscious choice to manipulate those around them, but they fall into this trap when their why– their greater purpose – is not directly tied to the growth and sustainabilty of the group (or more specifically the higher purpose of why that organisation exists).

Anyone who is involved in a team sport (coaches, players, managers, parents, etc) has a certain amount of influence on the culture of that team (whether you believe it or not). I believe that at the core of every person’s activity in a group context, should be the desire to inspire those around them to achieve great things.

We were created with the desire and ability to positively influence others to achieve greater things than they otherwise would be able to on their own. This is the foundation of why humans have created cultures for thousands of years. People gather around a common set of values and work towards something that stands outside of individual agendas.


We were created with the desire and ability to positively influence others to achieve greater things than they otherwise would be able to on their own.

 The Curious Case of Samuel Langley

Leadership writers love to use the story of Samuel Langley as an example of someone who failed as a leader because he fell into the manipulation trap.

Langley was a well-known inventor and academic around the turn of the century. He was an accomplished astronomer, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and held a position at the Naval Academy. He was well connected within government circles and was known to associate with other powerful men like Andrew Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell. He received a $50,000 (a small fortune at the turn of the 19th century) grant from the government to tackle one of his life goals: being the first to achieve machine powered flight. He was given access to assemble a team of the best and brightest minds in science and engineering. Yet, most of us have never heard of Langley, so what went wrong?

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Langley’s driving motivation was to achieve personal fame, fortune, and notoriety. He wanted to invent something BIG. Not primarily because he wanted change the world for the better, but so he could reap the benefits of being the first in flight. Instead, Langley’s competitors (the Wright Brothers) had a profound sense of why they wanted to invent a flying machine: they believed it would change the lives of people forever. They didn’t have even a fraction of the resources that Langley was given, yet they beat him in the race for flight. Their clarity of mission allowed them to pursue their goal with a passion and persistence that Langley didn’t have. It is the primary reason why people all over the world know the story of the Wright brothers.


Manipulation vs. Inspiration

In evaluating our own motivations, below are a few statements that we can use to test whether we are falling into the Manipulation trap, or using our influence to inspire those around us.


  • Look at a situation and ask “how does this benefit my personal situation”
  • Are motivated primarily by personal gain
  • Will sacrifice long term growth for short term gain
  • Fail to generate genuine creativity because their imagination is limited to their personal agenda
  • Will often bail in tough situations because they don’t have a clear purpose
  • Can cause strife and unrest in team settings



  • Make decisions in alignment with their higher purpose
  • Are more concerned with long-term growth than short term potential
  • Rejoice when they see others do great things
  • Motivate people to reach their potential and make a difference
  • Always prioritize a “Win” for the organisation over personal gain  


If you want to check out Sinek’s book on Amazon click here.  

Lead well. Pursue excellence. Change the World. 

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