LEADING OTHERS: Influencing Others

Ever tried to change anyone's behavior at work? It can be extremely frustrating. So often the effort produces an opposite result: rupturing the relationship, diminishing job performance, or causing the person to dig in their heels. Still, some approaches clearly work better than others.

One characteristic of strong leaders is the ability to influence behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. People resist being told what to do, and while the authority of their position might empower leaders to direct others, often they are dependent on people such as peers and superiors over whom they have no formal control. There are many ways to influence others and learning to use these tactics is essential for effective leadership.

What is influence?

Influence is how we get others to do something that they might not otherwise do. It is personal in that it flows through the relationships. Using influence is a way of guiding people rather than compelling them.

What does it take to have influence?

Before you can influence someone, you need to establish his or her trust, which in turn rests in being seen as having credibility. Without trust, a leader cannot hope to move others to willingly follow her. With trust, people will find attempts to influence them legitimately, and they are more likely to be open to being influenced.

What are some ways to influence others?

There are two types of influence strategies: soft and hard. Soft strategies are aimed at making people want to do something, are based on mutual respect, and can be more subtle. These are most frequently used in managing up and laterally. Hard strategies result in people feeling they have no choice but to do what is requested; they offer less freedom to resist than do soft strategies. They are used most frequently for managing subordinates.

What kinds of things can I exchange to influence others?

Bargaining, or exchange, is the most frequently used type of influence. Sometimes these exchanges are explicit, but often they occur without any direct acknowledgment. Most leaders have a wide array of things they can offer that others will find valuable. Management experts Allan Cohen and David Bradford refer to these as types of “currencies.” They identify five different categories of currency. Use these to generate ideas about how you can influence the people you work with. Notice that many overlap with approaches to motivation.

1. Inspiration-related Currencies

2. Task-related Currencies

3. Position-related Currencies

4. Relationship Currencies

5. Personal-related Currencies

Source: Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford. "The Influence Model: Using Reciprocity and Exchange to Get What You Need. 2006 (Winter) Journal of Organizational Excellence p.57-80.

Source and inspiration: University of Colorado and Harvard University.