Monday, April 2, 2018


Sometimes leadership is about command and control. If the building is burning down the situation calls for someone who can take charge and tell people how to get out. However, a lot of leadership in modern business is about influence. That's a whole different set of skills. Our recent client illustrates the difference. 

Mike is a business unit leader in a large financial organization. His team of strategic account managers handled client accounts worth millions of dollars. Mike would readily describe the account managers as highly driven professionals and successful in their jobs, but he noticed that they were falling short and not utilizing all the tools and opportunities that he provided for them. 

Mike wanted his team to be excellent and he knew that they could achieve higher goals and greater success.

He had tried simply telling them what to do differently, setting some very specific incentive programs and showing them how the ideas he had were being used successfully in his old company and elsewhere.

This approach was not producing the results that Mike was hoping for. His team was appeared receptive and willing to take on board his suggestions and direction, but they didn’t follow through.  

Mike wondered if it was something to do with his style. Nothing seemed to change what his managers were prepared to do…until he learned one simple tactic…the power of influence.

Mike’s issue was that he didn’t have the influence to get the results he wanted.
Psychological studies show that there are seven primary ways to influence people by your behavior.

People often rely on only three of these:   

1.  Authority/Power: Do it because I say so. 

2.  Scarcity: Do it because I can withhold something you want.

3.  Conditioning: Do it because it’s always worked that way before. 

Many organizations are set up to basically run on these three strategies. 

Mike had used all three but his managers were used to them. There wasn’t anything new that was compelling enough to make them prepared to try something different.

There are four other influence strategies that are easy, engaging and ethical.

They are:  

1.  Affinity: People are wired to respond positively to people they like. Being likable, and demonstrating that you like people, is remarkably influential. 

2.  Social Proof: People tend to act like other people they judge as  “good like me.” Providing examples of positive behavior influences people to behave like the role models. 

3.  Virtuous Cycles: People respond positively to the power of give and take. If you start a virtuous cycle you can influence people to respond positively until it becomes “give and take and give and take and.…” 

4.  Commitment and Consistency: People are wired to make good on their commitments and act consistently with their view of themselves. Getting people to take one small step influences them to keep going and take bigger steps. 

Mike’s one simple change in his approach was to get his managers to share one of their success stories at each of their management meetings. The strategy worked on a couple of levels.

Firstly, the managers found it much easier to tell stories that included their colleagues. They found the exercise increased their teamwork and liking for each other. As a follow on, hearing what others like them had done successfully made them more inclined to try to do the same thing. Certainly, they were more influenced by stories about their peers and each other than what they were told to try by their boss.

As the success stories became a common fixture at the management meetings the managers started to look for examples to call each other out for having a good account management idea. That meant that over time they also called on Mike to join in with his ideas.

Finally, without the pressure to make big changes from the boss, each of the individuals tried little things and made small experimental adjustments. Once they started the team created a new culture of trying different tactics with clients and sharing their results.

Mike is seen as a good leader with good people skills. Soon after we finished working with him he was promoted to a Regional Vice President, and now he leads a team of business unit leaders. 

Now that Mike has learned how to use influence to get the best results from his team he is better prepared to help his team not only get the work done, but to also strive for excellence. His style hasn’t changed a lot. Sometimes he still needs to tell people to “just do it”. However, he thinks now about different influence strategies he can use when he wants to build support and get people motivated to try something new.

Being successful at influence is very teachable. It is deeply rooted in what we know about social psychology and how people predictably respond in groups and organizations. This month’s readings and infographic have more information about influence that we regularly build into our client work.

Mike*: Real client, changed name.


  1. You provide great insights into the skill of influencing - your clients are fortunate!

    Defining, managing, and living your personal brand might be one of the most effective ways to influence, if that personal brand is one of consistently delivering to those you are leading or serving. Transparency, courage, collaboration, enablement, and authenticity are key here.

    Carolien Moors, HardTalk Biz Coaching

    1. Thanks Carolien. I appreciate the comment coming as does with your coaching and branding expertise.