The topic of leadership is on the forefront of most, if not all, organizations these days. It’s one of the most talked about and yet least understood topics in the business world. Today I entered the generic term “leadership” in a Google search and it came back with more than 462,000 results. When I changed it to “leadership skills” there were more than 91 million results!
Are you kidding me?
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu
With all of that information floating around out there, why is it that throughout our world today, we see such a lack of real leadership? We see it in our political leaders who seem to care more about posturing and furthering their own agenda than truly serving the people who elected them. We see it in corporate America when leaders act irresponsibly and focus more on the bottom line and profit than they do their own people, community, or customers. We see it in families where parents are unwilling to discipline and provide guidance for their children.
But what is this elusive idea called leadership? Can anyone say with any sense of certainty? For me, leadership refers to not just one thing, but a series of decisions and actions. And, in my humble opinion, at its heart leadership is about influence.
So let me ask you, how well do you influence your teams? What are the things you do to influence them? Is there room for improvement in your current strategy?
In his book, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, author Robert Cialdini, PhD, writes about the tools of influence we can use either as tools for good or as weapons of manipulation. Of course, in this context, I’ll be talking about the former and not the latter. That is, as far as you know… I could be influencing you right now.
“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” – Ken Blanchard
There are many methods for gaining influence with our teams and within our organizations, but due to limitations I want to focus on two specific methodologies – reciprocation and liking.
The rule of reciprocation is very much like it sounds. I do something nice, helpful, or good for you, and you return the favor. On the surface it seems like a typical quid pro quo response to our environment. But looking deeper, it is clear that this concept is deeply rooted in our collective psyche. In fact, according to sociologist Alvin Gouldner, there is literally no established human society that does not subscribe to this rule1. It would seem that the very fabric of society would crumble were this rule to be violated.
How can you use reciprocation to the benefit of your team and the project? What about reward activities for your team for achieving specific and important milestones, such as a catered lunch, an afternoon movie, a half-day of “free time” or some other item of value to your team? By simply showing gratitude and rewarding good behavior, you tend to entice more of the same. And, the people on your team feel obligated to return these gifts with loyalty and hard work. Of course, I cannot stress enough that this should never be used as a tool to manipulate them, because people will find out and those results would be disastrous.
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
The second tool of influence I want to talk about today is the concept of liking. As simple as it sounds, we are more willing to carry out requests for people we know and like2. All that is fine and good, but how do we get people to like us? I’d like to illuminate two characteristics that may give you some insights and that you can utilize with your teams right away to make a difference.
The first rule of liking is that we tend to like people who are like us. Easy enough, right? But considering today’s diverse workforce and with the advent of so many virtual teams, that may not be as easy as it sounds. Still, that doesn’t prevent us from finding common connections among us. The quickest way to discover those connections is through sharing our story.
Another characteristic of liking is that we tend to like people who like us. Being kind and considerate is a good start! We can also compliment the other person for their talents, work skills, etc. It takes only a moment to say something nice to another person, but the effects can be long lasting and considerable.
Obviously this is a brief glimpse into a complex subject. But at the same time, the complexity isn’t in the strategy of influence; it’s in the implementation. The concepts are simple; the execution is where we tend to complicate matters. In my experience, we tend to dismiss some of the most effective strategies simply because we think they sound too simple. And people sure like to complicate things!
If you’d like to learn more about the art and science of influence, then I highly recommend Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence.
1Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini, PhD. Chapter 2, “Reciprocation, The Old Give and Take… and Take”
2Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini, PhD. Chapter 5, “Liking: The Friendly Thief”