What great leaders know about Influence

It’s easy to think that some people are naturally very influential, when in reality influence is about skills!

We can learn how to increase our influence, and it’s a good thing to want more influence. If we consider leadership as influencing and facilitating others towards achieving collective goals, then we see that influence is a foundation of leadership. We often talk about increasing our leadership, but we can be hesitant in sharing that we want to increase our influence. But if we want to be better leaders, we should desire to increase our influence.

This is exactly the point I found myself at in the Spring of 2015, so I went hunting, hunting for new knowledge on Influence and then to find a place to practice my new knowledge.

1. Recognize that influence is not about charm. We can believe that successful influence is reserved for the naturally charismatic and charming. Rather, it’s about how versatile we are and how much we’re able to adapt our style when in different situations and working with different people. Research by Kaplan and Kaiser suggests that up to 50% of the difference between what people consider to be average versus highly successful leaders is determined by their versatility — their ability to adapt. The same is true for influence — there is no single best style, it’s about building our toolkit of influencing techniques and drawing on the right one in the right situation.

2. Create professional chemistry. “We just clicked” or “we didn’t really click.” We can think that it’s up to chance whether we connect with someone or not, when in reality we can create professional chemistry. Asking open questions to understand what is most important to those we’re meeting, finding out how they like to work and adapting our style enables us to take big steps towards “clicking.”

3. Engage in “target assessment.” Research by Enns and McFarlin found that what they call “target assessment” significantly increases an executive’s ability to influence their peers. (I believe this to be one of the most challenging forms of influence, as it’s outside hierarchical lines — you can’t fall back on authority and hierarchical power if personal power doesn’t work.) It sounds cold but this target assessment simply means giving greater consideration to the person or people you’re working with. Consider their role, their resources, their priorities, their personality, their potential to resist our ideas and previous times when you or others have successfully influenced them. It doesn’t take long but it makes a big difference to dedicate time to this, not just thinking about what we’re going to say.

4. Don’t rely solely on rational persuasion. Logic and sound arguments go a long way in influencing others towards the thinking and actions you would like them to adopt. But we can over-rely on rational persuasion in business. We need more than just to convince others of the business case for doing something. People need to want to work with us personally.

5. Share your values. We are more likely to want to work with people who we share values with. Be prepared to talk openly about your values and identify shared values and goals. Logic guides our decision making but so do our values.

6. Invite genuine participation. Consultation is a powerful form of influence. When we invite people to contribute to the thinking behind our ideas they are more likely to be positive about the subsequent plans. We are attached to things that we help to create. This is only true, however, where the consultation invitation is authentic. Don’t ask for input and ideas on something that is unlikely to change. We know how disheartening it is when employees are asked for feedback and no changes are made as a result. It’s better not to ask in the first place. The same is true for consultation. Ask for ideas and suggestions within the scope of what you may actually change. You don’t need to follow their ideas but do need to consider them, go back with why you did or didn’t make the changes and share your appreciation of their input.

Researchers Anderson, Spataro and Flynn define influence as “the ability to change the actions of others in some intended fashion.” Often I get asked what’s the difference between influence and manipulation. I believe the answer to be in our intention. Successful influence is about being intentional with how we interact with others and for what purpose. If our goal, as with leadership, is moving people towards achieving collective goals, then it’s a good thing to want more influence.

Intregued spent the Spring of 2017 focused on Robert Caldini’s “Influence” which further refined these into 6 helpful focus points:

  1. Reciprocity – People tend to return a favor, thus the pervasiveness of free samples in marketing. In his conferences, he often uses the example of Ethiopia providing thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid to Mexico just after the 1985 earthquake, despite Ethiopia suffering from a crippling famine and civil war at the time. Ethiopia had been reciprocating for the diplomatic support Mexico provided when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The good cop/bad cop strategy is also based on this principle.
  2. Commitment and consistency – If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self-image. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement. Cialdini notes Chinese brainwashing of American prisoners of war to rewrite their self-image and gain automatic unenforced compliance. Another example is children being made to repeat the Pledge of Allegiance each morning and why marketers make you close popups by saying “I’ll sign up later” or “No thanks, I prefer not making money”.[8]
  3. Social proof – People will do things that they see other people are doing. For example, in one experiment, one or more confederates would look up into the sky; bystanders would then look up into the sky to see what they were seeing. At one point this experiment aborted, as so many people were looking up that they stopped traffic. See conformity, and the Asch conformity experiments.
  4. Authority – People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform objectionable acts. Cialdini cites incidents such as the Milgram experiments in the early 1960s and the My Lai massacre.
  5. Liking – People are easily persuaded by other people that they like. Cialdini cites the marketing of Tupperware in what might now be called viral marketing. People were more likely to buy if they liked the person selling it to them. Some of the many biases favoring more attractive people are discussed. See physical attractiveness stereotype.
  6. Scarcity – Perceived scarcity will generate demand. For example, saying offers are available for a “limited time only” encourages sales.


Murray is the Principal of q3ed and internationally experienced executive Project, Program and Leadership Director.

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