The sixth foundation of leadership is Persuasion and Influence. Let’s find out what each of these critical actions is – and then talk about why they are so important. Persuasion is a combination of actions that can help people agree to or at least see a new viewpoint. First, persuasion is about communicating ideas clearly. As a leader, you’ve probably got a big vision in mind for the organization, and most likely some smaller “milestone” visions, as well. It’s a hard leap from your mind to an articulated thought – and some leaders fail to make the leap. You’ve got to know your vision inside and out, but you’ve also got to express it in terms that are understood by the entire organization.
When it comes to communicating your ideas, you’ll soon learn when it’s time to talk – and when it’s time to listen. That doesn’t necessarily refer to one conversation or interaction – it could amount to months of listening and months of talking – or longer. The key is to use just the right amount of persistence to keep the idea going, to keep people thinking, and to keep the idea’s momentum going. David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, was known for discussing opposing points of view repeatedly until the people involved saw the other side of the story. He used just the right amount of persistence to get this done. When you’re communicating, talk benefits – not how you can help or what you can do. Paint a picture of what the other person, team, or organization will look like once they’ve accepted a new point of view. Don’t forget to base your benefits on fact.
But what about influence?
Influence is the act of crafting your ideas and asserting them through persuasion. Persuasion may be a series of conversations, but influence is bigger. To gain influence, you may need to organize or mobilize a group to prepare for or take action. The process of gaining influence involves gaining support and commitment to your ideas or vision. This is the “politicking” that’s involved in persuasion. You should always be on the lookout for appropriate ways and means to gain influence. Lyndon Johnson was one of the world’s most well known influencers, slipping in mentions of his projects and gaining support from Congressional leaders at parties, on the dance floor with an official’s wife, or in every day conversation. While you’re doing this, you must prove your organizational and business savvy – understand what’s on the table for the other person or group and balance that with your own needs. To gain commitment, you may also have to promise commitment. Another way to gain influence is to step in and manage disagreement, especially when no one else is doing it. Being a conflict negotiator can help you see both sides of an issue and can help you determine the give and take in each situation. Overall, in both persuasion and influence, the effective keys to communication in leadership, which we’ve already discussed, will serve you well.
What are the benefits of persuading and gaining influence? On a personal level, influence builds your own strength – and your interpersonal relationships. You never know when you may need the assistance of someone you meet along the way, so those relationships you make are extremely valuable. The process of influencing naturally gets people to follow your lead and creates a “party” that can move ideas and visions forward. Persuasion, on the other hand, helps you win “followers”, people that trust you as a leader and will advance with you. But more than this, persuasion through influence convinces the “naysayers” and helps people to see the vision more accurately.
Think about persuasion on a family level. Many parents act as authoritarians, and sometimes this may be necessary. But think about the benefits of persuading your children to see another point of view. You’ll educate them in the process instead of using the proverbial “because I said so.” Influence in a community situation is extremely important, so each time you have the opportunity to persuade, you should. Think about influence in communities – what starts out as settling a disagreement between neighbors could lead to wider influence when more important issues are at stake. The corporate world is in desperate need of real persuasion and influence – too often, the person who spouts the most buzzwords is the one who wins influence. If you take the time and have the patience to persuade and influence in any situations, you and your organization will end up better off in the long run.
Copyright 2009 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.