Tag Archives: Decision making

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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Filed under Business, Influence, Leadership, Trust, Uncategorized

The Pros and the Pros of Delegation

utilitybeltDelegation is a vital yet often underleveraged tool in the “Leadership Utility Belt.” Long-held misconceptions about delegation cause many leaders to deprive themselves of this valuable resource. When used effectively, delegation improves productivity, develops employees, and makes the assigner and the assigned more influential.

A Few Rotten Apples Have Spoiled the Bunch

Delegation has a troublesome track record. Throughout history, less than noble superiors have proudly carried the flag of delegation as they foisted undesirable time-consuming menial tasks onto their underlings. This particular style is referred to as “seagull management.” seagullManagers swoop in dump all over their team and fly off without so much as a backwards glance. For those who’ve experienced life in the “drop zone”, the blatant abuse of an otherwise virtuous process has left a nearly indelible stain on the reputation of delegation.

Setting the Record Straight

Delegation is not the assignment of unwelcome tasks to the person least likely to protest. Nor is it an abdication of responsibility. The giver and the receiver of delegated assignments are equally accountable for their timely completion. Delegation is entrusting people with responsibilities that match individual strengths, holding them accountable to performing to their highest potential, and providing them with the support needed to succeed. Tasks and responsibilities are given to the most qualified person who is also the most interested in the challenge.

Another misconception about delegation is that it takes more energy and effort than it’s worth. For example, leaders who earned their role through personal excellence are often reluctant to put their tasks in the hands of another. These individuals fear that the other person will either not complete the assignment as well or might take a different approach to completing the task. When these leaders think about what it will take to get someone else “up to speed,” they conclude that “it’s just faster if I do it myself.” While it is true that effective delegation requires an upfront commitment of time and attention this should not be viewed as a hassle. The rewards of well executed delegation dwarf the initial investment of time and energy.

The Pros to Delegation

Assigning certain responsibilities to individuals who can complete them even when the leader is not present, frees the leader to focus on mission critical activities. Well organized schedules and balanced workloads allow leaders to oversee operations, spend time coaching, and think strategically.

If you are holding tight to non-mission critical tasks that you’ve mastered long ago, take a moment to consider why. Are you spending time on these tasks because the more vital issues awaiting your attention will force you out of your comfort zone? You could be stunting your growth as a leader if you tether yourself to tasks and responsibilities that can and should be delegated to your team.

Leaders who delegate correctly improve the overall responsiveness of the organization. People closest to day to day issues have the most relevant and recent information upon which to base intelligent decisions. By empowering these individuals with the authority to carry out their assigned responsibilities, the leader is facilitating the organization’s ability to react to or even anticipate environmental changes.

Delegation brings out the best in people. Participation in the decision-making process improves employee morale and performance and earns sincere buy-in to organizational initiatives.

When a leader delegates meaningful challenging work to motivated employees, the recipients of these assignments are given opportunities to add value, build their credibility, prove their trustworthiness and ultimately strengthen their influence in the organization. Delegation is trust in action. Trust granted is repaid by employees in the form of positive results and loyalty toward their leader. Being surrounded by a core team of competent energized influencers increases the leader’s ability to influence change and expedite decisions.

In the next post, we’ll cover how to delegate effectively.

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Filed under Business, Change, Influence, Leadership, Uncategorized

Create, Capitalize on, or Be Capsized by Change


A Leadership Bell Curve

I’d like you to imagine leadership performance as a bell curve. We’ll distribute managers along the curve relative to how well they navigate the sea of market changes. In this scenario, those at the top 10% of the curve are called Superstars and Visionaries. The former possess the lunar strength to control the tides, churning the waves of opportunity. The latter anticipate the big waves and position their organizations to ride the crests. Together, Superstars and Visionaries are a powerful source of competitive advantage for organizations that leverage their talents correctly. We’ll come back to this point in a moment.

Moving along, we come to the middle of the curve. The “bell” is populated by the 80% of leaders who spend their careers feeling the tides of change crashing down upon them. After each wave roars over them, they have to fight their way to the surface. After quickly regrouping, they move immediately to reviving their teams. These leaders work side by side with others to plan and execute sound strategies for capitalizing on the current industry challenge or opportunity. Fueled by the encouragement of their leaders, teams of people swim fast enough in the right direction to successfully catch up to and capitalize on the latest wave in the sea of market changes.

Comparing the Superstars and Visionaries to the other 80% of leaders illustrates the point that the degree of impact the majority of management professionals can expect to have within organizations has more to do with their ability to coach the team than it does with their strength as an individual contributor.

Though they don’t roil the oceans or anticipate the next wave, the leaders who can consistently position their organizations to capitalize on the changes in industry tides are valued and known for their ability to get results.

That leaves us with one more group to consider. The last 10% of the curve is made up of consultants who patiently wait for the 80%ers to reach the beach so they can tell them how to better handle the next wave.

All right, not really. The bottom 10% of the curve consists of managers who react quite differently from the other 90% of leaders. Unlike the picture of hope and triumph described above, the situation at this end of the curve is best described as “every man for himself.” When these managers are hit by a wave of marketplace change, they become focused on self preservation. Leaving their teams to fend for themselves, they tread water in a desperate attempt to keep afloat. Some are washed ashore. Others bob helplessly in the water watching colleagues and staff struggle to survive.

This could be a harsh indictment of individual character, or it could illustrate how people react when they fall victim to circumstance.

Maybe the “self-preservationists” are not naturally narcissistic but rather a product of organizational culture. Restrictive processes, antiquated systems, or a lack of decision-making authority could hinder their ability to lead effectively. It is also quite possible that the members of this group are merely mirroring the behavior of the managers positioned above them in their organizational hierarchy. If the leadership behavior at this end of the curve is largely determined by operating conditions, then it stands to reason that the same is true at all locations on the curve.

As was discussed in the Sources of Influence post last week, we have to be careful not to commit the Fundamental Attribution Error. A person’s actions are not always dictated by character or personal qualities. The environment and conditions under which a person is expected to perform can have a profound impact on behavior and results. This means that someone struggling to survive at the lower end of the bell curve in one organization could actually be a Leader, Visionary, or even a Superstar under more conducive circumstances. Conversely, a change in circumstances could render a Superstar or Visionary in one organization a washed out “self-preservationist” in another.

Committing the FAE can have a drastic effect on an organization’s health. For example, hiring a Superstar or Visionary is not an immediate elixir for economic woes nor is it a guarantee of innovative dominance. The skills and talents of Superstars and Visionaries will only produce results if the people and their ideas are planted in a nurturing environment. On the other end of the spectrum, how many people are fired because their poor performance was attributed to inherent qualities without any assessment of external factors?boats

Whether an organization creates, capitalizes on, or is capsized by marketplace change rests less on the caliber of people at the helm and more on the conditions of the boat they’re given to steer.

How has this played out in your organization’s reaction to the Recession?

How will it impact your organization’s ability to drive or prepare for economic recovery?

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