Manipulation is emotional blackmail and an unquintessential leadership traitWe live in a society that is fundamentally dishonest. Nothing is ever as it seems. Lying is the norm. Selfishness and self interests drive everything we see, hear, and read.

Unfortunately, most of us – those in leadership positions and those who are not – are the perpetrators of this fundamental dishonesty and lying because we have become consumed by self-centeredness and our own self interests.

A predominant aspect of this fundamental dishonesty is our overriding propensity toward manipulation. We manipulate people. We manipulate situations. We manipulate things.

Manipulation is an unquintessential leader trait. 

Manipulation is insidious. Most of us aren’t aware of how much of our daily lives are based on manipulation.

Manipulation is subtle. It comes couched in altruistic coverings that hide the real purpose behind the manipulation (the hidden agenda).

Manipulation – doing it and resisting it – is a vulnerability for all of us because it plays on our emotions.

Emotions are the weak spot for each of us. Emotions are fickle, volatile, and unreliable in terms of making sane, logical, and rational decisions.

That is why manipulation works so well. It usually catches us off guard and depending on what emotional buttons get pushed – practiced manipulators can read these emotional buttons like the backs of their hands, even if they don’t know the people, situations and things they are manipulating – we can fall for it before we even realize what’s happened.

Manipulation is essentially emotional blackmail.

There are a lot of people who have perfected emotional blackmail, both those in leadership positions and those not in leadership positions. 

It’s important to remember that manipulation is not something that just crops up in adulthood. Manipulators are sometimes born, but they most often are developed from a very early age. 

There is something fundamental in our human character that steers us even as toddlers to try to find a way to gain an advantage over others – namely the adults in our lives – and get what we want.

We all usually try manipulation first. If the adults in our lives allow us to get what we want through manipulation, then we develop the habit of defaulting to manipulation as how we interact with everything else in our lives.

With time and opportunity, we get really good at manipulation. Eventually, unchecked, we perfect it until we simply don’t know any other way than manipulation to operate in the world.

If this is our lives’ trajectory, then we also become fundamentally deceptive, dishonest, and devoid of integrity, character, and trustworthiness

There are common emotional buttons that are pushed by experienced manipulators. These buttons are based on the primal emotions that drive the human race.

Fear is an emotional button that manipulators pushThe most common emotional button that seasoned manipulators push is fear. These include:

  • Fear for safety
  • Fear for security
  • Fear of harm
  • Fear of loss
  • Fear of punishment

Another common emotional button that skilled manipulators push is sympathy.

Sympathy is something that experienced manipulators don’t Manipulation includes pushing the sympathy emotional buttonfeel and practice themselves (in fact, manipulators are extremely harsh toward and brutally critical of everyone else and habitually advocate no sympathy for anyone else but themselves), but they are exceptionally good at generating it for themselves.

The sympathy emotional button gets pushed by the manipulator in the following ways:

  • Constantly drawing attention to themselves
  • Constantly presenting themselves as vulnerable and delicate
  • Constantly reminding everyone of how much they are suffering
  • Constantly seeking validation and accolades because of how “well” they’re suffering

A final common emotional button that experienced manipulators push is guilt.

Guilt is, in my opinion, the most subjective emotion we have and skilled manipulators don’t access it directly, but instead use insinuation. 

The guilt emotional button is sometimes pushed by this statement:

  • I’m disappointed…

The guilt button is pushed by manipulationGuilt emotional buttons, however, most often get pushed by some form of these two basic questions about what the manipulator has supposedly done for the person they are trying to manipulate:

  • Have you forgotten…?
  • Don’t you remember…?

The interesting thing about manipulators and the guilt emotional button is that the manipulator is always manufacturing a past that never happened (i.e., the balance sheet is not in their favor and often is the exact opposite of what they are insinuating).

But the combination of  lifelong manipulators with our innate – and sometimes outsized – human capacity to experience guilt (even if we haven’t done anything wrong – am I the only one who gets a little nervous when a police car is behind me on the road even though I’m obeying all the traffic laws?) makes this emotional button harder to handle logically, and it is, in my opinion, the one to which we are most susceptible.

One of the most maddening things about manipulation and manipulators, though, is that they expect everything and give nothing.

Manipulation is selfishness and self-centeredness on steroids. Manipulators will not give up anything. They will not take responsibility for anything.

Manipulators will vengefully attack anyone and everyone who resists and refuses to fall for their manipulation.

In fact, manipulators fight back against this by making the resistors and the refusers of their attempts to manipulate the “bad guys.”

Manipulators do this loudly, publicly, and relentlessly. And because they are effective liars, manipulators usually manage to convince a lot of people that those who can’t and won’t be manipulated are horrible, awful, despicable people who deserve nothing but contempt and derision.

For the majority of people who fall for the lies of manipulators, these resistors and refusers effectively cease to exist as part of the human race. 

It happens every day. Innumerable times a day.




Manipulation is all around us. Perhaps manipulation is in us.

Because we are striving to be quintessential leaders, we have to be aware of what manipulation looks like and how much of it may have crept into our own lives in our words and our actions.

That means being brutally honest with ourselves and asking the tough questions of ourselves.

Whether we are manipulators or not depends on our motivation in everything in our lives.

As quintessential leaders, we must ask and answer these questions of ourselves continually:

  1. Why am I saying this?
  2. Why am I doing this?
  3. Am I being honest?
  4. Is this exclusively for my benefit or will it benefit everybody?

If we’re honest – and those of us striving to be quintessential leaders say we are honest, so we must back that up with proof in a world that is fundamentally dishonest – we may find that a lot of what we say and do on a daily basis is designed to manipulate people, situations, and things to work in our favor and for our benefit.

This is the difficult work of quintessential leadership.

Most people are unable and unwilling to do it because it means changing who and what they are at the core level of their lives.

It means doing the right thing all the time, no matter what the personal cost. It means giving up some things. It means being selfless, even when it would be a piece of cake to fulfill our selfish desires.

Quintessential leaders are not most people.

How are we doing?

  1. […] It should be apparent that a subjective person has an approach that includes bias, narcissism, self-absorption, and selfishness. […]


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