Monthly Archives: October 2009

Influence vs. Persuasion: A Critical Distinction for Leaders


Let’s begin with a little mental gymnastics. Take a moment to decide on your definition of the words “influence” and “persuasion.” Then, decide which of the following statements falls under your definition of Influence and which falls under Persuasion:

  1. Choosing words and phrases to communicate ideas that strike a responsive chord in a target audience
  2. Socializing ideas to bring all the issues to light and earn buy-in
  3. Giving others a voice in the decision-making process
  4. Learning what keeps a person or group of people up at night
  5. Providing assistance or resources without any expectation of reciprocity
  6. Brokering meaningful relationships between unconnected groups
  7. Using a decision-matrix to steer a conversation through a path of predictable choices
  8. Orchestrating environmental conditions in which to interact with others in order to optimize the likelihood of a desirable outcome
  9. Listening and paraphrasing back what was said
  10. Delivering bad news sooner than later
  11. Giving others credit whenever possible
  12. Maintaining a track record of consistent success in a particular area

The less distinction between your definitions of influence and persuasion the higher degree of difficulty you probably experienced trying to separate the above statements. From a purely semantic point of view, it’s not such a big deal to use these terms interchangeably. From a leadership perspective however, the distinction can be the difference between your team carrying you on their shoulders after a victory or having them stuff you in a locker before practice.

Based on my definitions, 2, 3, 5, 6, 11, & 12 are squarely under the influence umbrella. Items 1, 7, 8 fall under persuasion. The others can go either way depending upon the circumstances or timing of a situation.


The way I see it,

Persuasion is presenting a case in such a way as to sway the opinion of others, make people believe certain information, or motivate a decision. Marketing programs can formally teach persuasion techniques.

Influence is having a vision of the optimum outcome for a situation or organization and then, without using force or coercion, motivating people to work together toward making the vision a reality.

Persuasion can be used to spur someone to action or to make a decision without actually earning their sincere buy-in. With influence, dedicating time to win someone’s heart or earn mindshare is a prerequisite to the process of inspiring them to take action or make a particular decision.


In time-sensitive circumstances, positive persuasion techniques are a handy means for expediting results. However, for most leaders, influence is the preferred means to a productive end. This is because influence is based on a foundation of trust and credibility that has been solidified over time. If persuasion techniques are applied in situations best suited for influence, the persuader is often perceived as manipulative and any compliance is temporary at best.

Consider this: If someone doesn’t have significant influence with you, yet they convince you to do something, has the person persuaded you or did they simply facilitate a process by which you persuaded yourself?

Persuasion used indiscriminately can easily be described as the ability to “sell ice to Eskimos.” But, do the Eskimos trust you or buy from you again when they realize you’ve sold them something they don’t really need? How comfortable do you feel with that decision even a few short minutes after you make it? Chances are you have doubts. Because you don’t necessarily trust the person who persuaded you, you experience misgivings or “buyer’s remorse.” On the other hand, a strong leader who takes the time to reduce any uncertainty before encouraging others to act or make a decision can use persuasion techniques without eliciting such negative feelings.

Persuasion techniques, when applied with integrity and a sincere intention to make a positive contribution in an individual’s life or to the betterment of the group, are a powerful lever for moving the decision-making process along. In situations where we’ve made the proper investment in relationships, we can use persuasion techniques such as framing, fairness, and timing to show respect for the people who deem us influential.j0177969

If persuasion is the hammer you pull out the moment you see a nail, influence is the apprenticeship and training you go through long before you attempt to build a house. Influence grows out of well nurtured relationships. It’s the end-result of actions, behaviors, and intentions geared toward building trust, establishing credibility, and adding value. Persuasion is more of an “in the moment” skill. It’s the combination of charisma, talent, and technique that can get things done without preamble. Ironically, despite its expediency, persuasion is actually best received by people who have faith in the persuader’s degree of influence.

When trust is present, influence increases and persuasion is positive.

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“Productive Meeting” is Not an Oxymoron

The Stake Out

“Hey,” said Alberts as he struggled to pull what looked like a football wrapped in butcher paper out of his coat pocket. “Anybody want a sandwich?”  Both men shook their heads. “Nah. I’ll just chew on my coffee” said Lewis swirling the dregs in his cup.

“You guys look beat. It’s after 7. What are you doing here so late? What’s the situation?” queried Alberts. Dawes tossed his magazine onto the van floor and stood up to stretch. “We’ve spent all day witnessing a colossal mess of meetings. I haven’t seen anything this bad since that boardroom debacle back in ’98. We thought it was going to be a slow day. According to the room scheduling program, there was a meeting at 8am, one at 10am, an 11am, and then nothing until 2pm with no other meetings after that.” Alberts looked over at the video feed streaming on the laptop screen. A group of distraught looking individuals were huddled at the far end of a conference room. Take-out containers, empty soda cans, and wadded up napkins were pushed into a disheveled mountain in the middle of the long oval table. “So what happened?” asked Alberts squinting at the screen.Meeting

“I’ll tell you what happened” replied Lewis swiveling his chair around. “Our informant completely played down the severity of the situation. This copany is in far worse shape than we thought.” Without pausing to take a breath, Lewis barreled head long into a rant that would make Dennis Miller proud. “The 8am meeting was between Mr. Jenkins, the company President, and his executive team. Three of the eight people scheduled to meet actually showed up on time. Jenkins strolled in at 8:18am with the other four people hurrying in on his heels. It’s their weekly meeting, so no one thought it necessary to put together an agenda. McMichaels, the VP of Operations got hung up on a production issue. Jenkins started brainstorming on the flipchart and before you know it, the 10am group is gathered outside the meeting room watching the executive team through the glass walls. Stevens, a marketing manager leading the 10am meeting, was so intimidated he just stood there without saying a word. Fifteen minutes later, the execs vacate and Stevens finally gains access to the conference room. He had an agenda, which was good. But two people in the meeting never looked up from their BlackBerries. The domino effect of delayed meetings was well underway. The 11am meeting didn’t get into the room until noon. Instead of diving right into it, the group decided to get their lunches. This was no working lunch. We learned some interesting information about everybody’s kids and vacation plans as well as the plot of this week’s NCIS. By the time they started discussing issues, it was 1:05pm. One woman brought up the same production issue that came up in the executive meeting. She would not let it go. No one interrupted her. Halfway through, a guy walked out of the meeting stating that he had to go to another meeting. Having reached no significant conclusions by 2:15pm, the group decided to schedule another time to reconvene on the original points they were supposed to cover. The 2pm meeting participants settled into the room at 2:25p. At 2:26pm, Holt, an analyst, announces that he has a 2:30pm meeting so he can now only stay for a few minutes. Benson joins the meeting at 2:40pm. Despite his efforts at a covert entrance, the whole group stops talking. He explains that he had three meetings booked at 2pm so he decided to attend all three but only stay for twenty minutes in each.” Exhausted from his recount of the day, Lewis swiveled back to the computer screen.

“Wait a minute. Is this the 2pm group still?” Dawes smiled at the shocked look on Alberts’ face. “No man. They cut out at 4:30. This was a quick impromptu gathering that started at 5pm. One of the HR managers asked a few people to join her for a short conversation. She promised it would only take a minute.” “Wow, this company is going to need the full court press” said Alberts as he slumped into a seat. Lewis thought about the true meaning behind Alberts’ words, “the full court press.”

Like so many other companies the Meeting Squad was called in to help, this one was going to need a lot more than just an agenda template and a few meeting ground rules. The heart of the matter lay in the company’s culture. Emanating from the executive team, a host of attitudinal and behavioral miscues had permeated the whole organization. It’s a congenial place to work. Everybody likes each other and no one wants to jeopardize the positive rapport they all share. They’re under a misguided notion that holding each other accountable to meeting rules and etiquette would damage relationships and stagnate creativity. The entire staff has been complicit in allowing meetings to run amok like children at recess. The price is a dramatic loss of productivity and efficiency. However, after years on the Meeting Squad, Lewis knew that “productive meeting” did not have to be an oxymoron. His gaze shifted to the checklist taped to the wall of the van.

The list was titled, Starting with Company Culture. Here’s what it said:

Grassroots: locate people already conducting well-run meetings or find willing converts. Be sure to identify respected individuals with credibility. Designate these individuals as Meeting Champions. Equip the Champions with the tools and techniques to run productive meetings. Check in often to hold them accountable and encourage them through the challenging moments.

Coalition: build a network of influential managers willing to support the culture change initiative. Elicit their help in drafting a Meeting Manifesto outlining guidelines for redefining the company’s culture around meetings. Leverage the influence of the Coalition to gain access to senior management.

Top Down: present a business case to the executive team illustrating the tangible improvements to morale, productivity and output that can be achieved by implementing a company-wide strategy to improve the effectiveness of meetings. Encourage the executive team to edit and help finalize the Meeting Manifesto. Teach the executives the meeting leadership principles and tools needed to make the Manifesto a reality. Earn permission to hold them accountable to communicating the Manifesto and modeling the desired attitudes and behaviors.

Roll-out: when sufficient momentum has gathered around the idea that the meeting culture is changing, train the remaining staff on the tools and techniques required to run efficient meetings. Establish a recognition program to reinforce consistent application of new guidelines and methods. Help departments with their own sub-cultures tailor the meeting norms to fit the nuances of their environment. Continually assess progress and make modifications to incorporate best practices.

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Culture: The Organizational “12th Man”

Lately, I’ve been juxtaposing my passions to see what ideas would form. When I fused the game of football with principles of leadership, I realized how underutilized the “12th Man” strategy is as a resource for shaping organizational dynamics.

For some, it is the sunlight dappling on brilliantly colored leaves. For others, it is the crisp air so cool and refreshing. For me, the only reason not to weep openly at the passing of summer into autumn is the screech of referee whistles and the giddy feeling I get at the sound of shoulder pads cracking together.

Though a strong supporter of the home team (Bears), I enjoy the sport too much to be limited to one game a week. The Seattle Seahawks are always high on the list of teams to watch because of Matt Hasselbeck*, the gitchy color of their new uniforms, and my fascination with the power of the “12th Man.”stadium

For those of you who prefer sports with diamonds or hoops, in football, 11 men from each team square off against each other on the field. The Seahawks refer to the fans in their stadium as “The 12th Man.” Due to the acoustics of Quest Field, when the spectators join together in full voice, it makes it nearly impossible for the opposing offense to communicate with each other. Watch some time. During the game, members of the Seahawks defense call the “12th man” into action by pushing their hands in the air palms up. This signals the fans to raise the volume to deafening levels. The “12th Man” has become such a force to be reckoned with, other teams prepare for it by blasting music onto their fields during practices.

What I find most compelling about the “12th Man” is that it broadens the point of view from which to consider how the game is played and won. Typically, the twenty-two men battling it out across the line of scrimmage are the center of attention. When the spotlight is on the quarterback, the linemen, and the snap of the ball, the fans in the stadium are merely blurred images on the periphery. However, the “12th Man” is the eye-in-the-sky camera point of view. It encompasses not only the players on the field, but the atmosphere in which they are playing.

In many businesses, the camera is often closely trained on the marginal difference between the line of scrimmage and the first down. It’s a limited ten yard perspective that captures only the players and the voice of the coaches transmitting messages into the quarterback’s helmet. When it comes time to make organizational improvements, it’s important to consider the broadest range of factors. Changing behaviors by changing processes, systems, or incentives neglects the impact of the environment on people’s ability to adopt these new practices. If the organizational culture is not conducive or accepting of the changes, they will not last.12thmanstand

The “12th Man” is not a Seahawk’s creation. It was started in 1922 when the Texas A&M Aggies played Centre College, the nation’s top ranked team. It was a grueling game that depleted the team’s reserve of players. Out of desperation, the Aggies’ coach had E. King Gill, a former football player, suit up and stand by. Gill was never called in but he remained standing at the ready. When the Aggies are down, the fans stand up for the whole game—ready in case the team needs them.

If your business is fighting the good fight, but can’t seem to win, widen your focus beyond the players on the field. Take a look up into the “stands.” Analyze the stadium in which you are playing. Are the prevailing attitudes, accepted norms, beliefs, and behaviors hindering forward progress? Are there changes in the works that are incompatible with the environment in which they are being installed? Or, is the organization’s culture suited up and waiting for leadership to put it in play?


* (he’ll be back!)

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