How To Influence Without Alienating Others

Getting people to do things as a leader is trickier than most of us imagine. It’s not simply a question of telling people what to do and considering it done. The days of one-way leadership are gone in this age of hyper-connectivity. People don’t work for us, they work with us.

Yet we can often fall into the Authority trap. This is using our positional power to coerce others into following orders. It’s a shortcut that is tempting, especially when we are already overworked.

The trouble is coercion kills buy in. Your team will shrink from you, they’ll move to work-to-rule, and be surfing LinkedIn for the next opportunity as soon as they can.

I had my first taste of leadership influence from my parents. No doubt I was a willful and stubborn child, and my poor exasperated parents sometimes defaulted to the directive,

“Do as I say because I say so!”

It takes time and energy to develop a case for action when others may not have the full picture or the ability to grasp the full context.

In parenting, it’s near impossible to rationalise with a two year old. They don’t really ‘get’ context. As a two-year old I did not fully understand the dangers of the road. I just wanted to play in the park across the way, darn it!

Defaulting to authority in leadership however is lazy. If we are to build buy in, we need to explain context and rationale, and invite opinions. It takes time and energy, often we least have it due to our malady of over-work.

Trying to be impressive is the next trap. This is when we use the force of our personality and charisma to sway others.

It’s the ethos, “Do as I say because I’m likeable.”

These are the smoothie-pant operators of the world: all charm and little substance. We may enjoy the company and flattery, but the superficial nature of the engagement leaves us a bit wanting.

Persuasion is a little know trap. We think our ability to convince others is the real secret to influence. We think our ideas will win the day. What’s really going on here is that we are pushing our expertise and experience on others. Black and white thinking can be prevalent here and we can be blind to our own biases and default thinking.

It’s the message, “Do as I say because I know so.”

Real influence is Co-Creation. This where we have genuine connection with others. We play with questions and curiosity. We explore unknowns. We challenge perspective. We influence because we allow ourselves to be influenced - not by personality or argument, but by possibility.

Co-Creation is the sweet spot of influence as we paradoxically drop the need to influence. We don’t need to persuade others of anything. We are only interested in exploring the best possible way forward. We have dropped the ego-driven need to be the influencer. We are instead a co-creator, an adventurer in to the unknown.

The intention is, “Let’s explore what we might do.”

Coercion, impression and persuasion are all PUSH influence styles. We are pushing our perspective and ideas on others, with varying degrees of consideration for other viewpoints. Co-Creation and connection are PULL strategies: we draw people towards us because we care about them and want to create with them.

We can see all these styles in full flight on a playground: there are the bossy kids who dictate the play and the rules of the game. There are the charismatic kids whose main objective is to get attention with ‘Look at me’ being heard above the noise. There are the argumentative kids who try and rationalise with their peers that the swing is the best option over the sandpit. And then there are the kids who are having the most fun: they are fully engaged and interacting with each other, building the play and the story off each other’s contribution. Each takes turns leading and following, a collective creative interplay.

The best kind of influence when is when it is play rather than work.