Leadership is social influence, so if you want to be a great leader you have to be able to gain great influence. Influence is having an impact on others.
We try to influence other people hundreds of times a day. (1) Those with greater skill win others over to their point of view more often. Once you learn the best (and most persuasive) techniques, it will become easier for you to succeed as well.
Influencing others is something we learn early in life. If you have children you know this very well. But as children, we don’t always use the best strategies. As adults, it’s worthwhile learning what works best and what to avoid. An effective leader needs as many persuasive influence tactics at her or his disposal as possible.
The Most Effective Influence Tactics
Rational/Logical Argument – Using logical arguments and facts to convince another person that your idea is best is the best approach. Presenting data and laying out a strong rationale for your position is one of the most commonly accepted strategies for influence in business. This method is most often used in the upward direction, such as making a case for a certain initiative to your boss or proposing a new project to the senior leadership team. All you need is clear logic, good evidence, and pure motives. The caveat is that both parties must be intelligent enough to clearly understand the data. Also, sometimes emotions can trump logic (we don’t always respond as rational human beings).
Inspiration – Demonstrating a lot of enthusiasm for your position can also work to gain support from others. This typically involves emphasizing the positive benefits of your preferred course of action. In other words, you are “cheerleading” for your idea and hoping that your enthusiasm will be infectious. This approach is often used in the downward direction to influence high performance on a team. The leader appeals to the emotions of the team members, a primary driver of motivation. To be most effective, though, inspiration requires that the leader model the desired behavior and set an example for others to follow (e.g., “walk the talk”).
Collaboration – Another effective influence strategy involves seeking the advice or cooperation of others to gain their support. You use this approach when you already know what you want to do, but need other’s input on how to do it. This approach works best with peers and colleagues. Involving them can reduce resistance as they feel part of the process. They take some ownership of the idea and, therefore, become more committed to a successful outcome. The tricky part here is that you can’t be manipulative about it. Others will notice if you simply use collaboration as a means to pursue your own agenda rather than have a sincere conversation.
An Influence Tactic that Sometimes Works
Ingratiation – Praise, flattery, or favors are sometimes used as strategies to gain influence. You attempt to put someone in a better mood so they will do what you want. One study found that restaurant servers who complimented customers on their choice of food received higher tips. (2) Another study found those who used ingratiation during a mock interview were judged as more likeable and competent. (3) Clearly, ingratiation can be a highly effective form of impression management that improves your chance of success in social situations. However, don’t take this one too far. If you over-use this approach, you just get labeled as a “brown-noser”.
Influence Tactics You Should Never Use
Forming Coalitions – Building secret alliances “behind the scenes” to get support for your cause eventually backfires. After you’ve built up your little army of supporters, you go to the person you want to influence and say something like, “Everyone else already agrees with me.” But this is viewed as manipulative and secretive by the other person (you went behind their back), so it results in mistrust and further distance in the relationship. This approach does not have a place in the business world; any short-term gains are not worth the damage it creates.
Exerting Pressure – Using threats, demands, intimidation, or perhaps even a bribe to get what you want is also not an effective strategy in the long-term. People may temporarily comply with these strategies to avoid the negative consequences of not doing so, but you destroy the relationship in the process. Sometimes the negative consequences are clearly stated (i.e., coercion); other times they’re implied (i.e., intimidation). This type of pressure tends to create insecurity, resentment, and distrust so don’t rely on this approach.
The “art” of influencing is to learn which tactic will work best in each situation and with each person. It’s essential for leaders to understand the range of influence tactics they have available, know when and how to use them, and sharpen their skills so that they can influence others more effectively.