Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Women in Leadership: Influence

If, indeed, the key to successful leadership is influence, how do we become more influential? Is this something we can learn? Influence was a crucial component of the lecture on Power given by Dr. Mabel Miguel, Professor of Organizational Behavior at the University of North Carolina (UNC), at the “Women in Business – Transitioning to Leadership” workshop at the UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School that I attended in May. Remember that “Power is Good” (for a refresher, please see blog on Power), and we should all want more of it. If we define power as the capacity or potential to influence others, then we want to increase this capacity or potential. So think about a recent situation where you successfully wielded your influence. Did you win an argument, change a policy, or improve a situation? Ask yourself the following questions:

• How influential are you?
• What is your favorite influence technique?
• How do you tailor your strategy to the situation?
• Did you have a plan when you approached people?

There are several categories of strategies/tactics that we use to influence others. These are often referred to as the three Rs: Reason, Reciprocity, and Retribution. Here’s a summary of each and some indications of when they might be the most effective choice.

Reason is an appeal to values, personal goals, or legitimacy. It can be encouraging, e.g., “The team needs you;” inspirational, e.g., “This is consistent with the values of our organization;” or motivational, e.g., “This will help you reach your goals.” You should stress the need and the merit. Use rational persuasion, compelling facts, and expert opinions.

This is my favorite influence technique. To a scientist, the idea that a reasonable argument should carry the day seems so obvious that I should not need any other tactic. The fact that these other tactics are available for me to use is something I learned during this workshop. When do you use the Reason influence? When you have adequate time for discussion, when you and those you are trying to influence share common goals and values, and when there is an on-going relationship characterized by mutual respect and credibility.

Reciprocity can take advantage of a network or coalition. It can involve a consultation, ingratiation, or a personal appeal. It can be gratifying, obliging, or forceful, e.g., the ‘Godfather’ approach. It can involve an exchange, e.g., “I’ll do this if you do this;” or a bargain, e.g., “I’ve been reasonable, now it is your turn.”

This is an influence technique that I am learning to use more effectively. In fact, there was a section of this workshop dedicated to networking, and I have already blogged about it. When do you use reciprocity? When each party is mutually dependent and has resources valued by the other. Both parties have to trust each other and have to have established exchange norms. Of course, abundant time for negotiating is always helpful.

The last tactic is Retribution. You can use intimidation, e.g., “Others have agreed;” or pressure, e.g., “If you don’t do it now you will miss this opportunity.” You can even resort to coercion or open threats.

I’m not sure if I have ever used Retribution effectively in my professional life, but as I write, I am thinking of situations where I could use it. This strategy would be most useful in a situation of unequal power, where I have the most influence, or if there is a serious violation of policy and resistance is likely. It is also useful when time constraints are tight.

In her 2015 Business Insider article, author Shana Lebowitz describes 11 incredible psychological tricks to get people to do what you want. She claims that you can get people to like you or give you what you want, even without them realizing that you’re doing it. Here are some highlights, but check out the full article for details.

1. Use a “decoy” option to get people to buy your product.
2. Tweak the environment to get people to act less selfish.
3. Help advance someone’s goals to get them to do you a favor.
4. Mimic people’s body language to get them to like you.
5. Speak quickly to get an argument opponent to agree with you.
6. Confuse people to get them to comply with your request.
7. Ask people for favors when they’re tired to get them to cooperate.
8. Display an image of eyes to get people to behave ethically.
9. Use nouns instead of verbs to get people to change their behavior.
10. Scare people to get them to give you what you need.
11. Focus on what your partner is gaining to get them to agree to your offer.

Leaving pop psychology aside for the moment, what are the best ways to influence and persuade? First, establish credibility. Do you have expertise? Make sure your bargaining partner knows this; don’t assume it will be self-evident. Do you have a history of helping others? Use examples of these relationships and what others have gained as a result of working with you. Second, find common ground. This position must make sense and appeal to both parties. Remember that people are more willing to cooperate with those who are like them AND who like them and they like. Make an effort to discover real similarities. Try to connect both emotionally and to the big picture. Don’t just talk. Listen. How will they interpreting what you say or feeling about your proposal? Understand what’s in it for them. Third, provide evidence – data, charts, figures, stories, examples, statistics, etc. Exclusive information is more persuasive than widely available data. Fourth, remember that influence is a process, not an event. Avoid hard-sells, and be ready to compromise. End with a call to action; get commitments voluntarily, in writing, or in public.

In conclusion, we should return to the quote at the top of this post, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” - Ken Blanchard. I’ve had supervisors who used their authority to get things done. Ordering someone to do something may pass as management, but it is not leadership. If, however you aim to be a leader, then you need to work on your ability to influence. Here are some references that were used in the creation of this blog and might help you reach this goal.

Allen, R. W., Madison, D. L., Porter, L. W., Renwick, P. A., Mayes, B. T. (1979) "Organizational Politics: Tactics and Characteristics of its Actors," California Management Review, XXII(1), 77-83.
Cialdini, R.B. (2001) Harnessing the science of persuasion. Harvard Business Review, 7915, 71-80.
Conger, J.A. (1998) The Necessary Art of Persuasion. Harvard Business Review, 76(3), 84-95.
Kipnis, D. (1987). Psychology and behavioral technology. American Psychologist, 42(1), 30-36.
Kipnis, D., Schmidt, S. M., & Wilkinson, I. (1980). Intraorganizational influence tactics: Explorations in getting one's way. Journal of Applied Psychology, 65(4), 440-452
Yukl, G., Falbe, C. M., & Youn, J. Y. (1993). Patterns of influence behavior for managers, Group and Organization Management, 18, 5–28.