The Science of Influence

By Stephen T. Messenger

May 4, 2021

Great leaders influence others to do more they can possibly dream or imagine.  We see this throughout history with great leaders such as George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi, to name a few.  While these public figures all changed nations, there are private leaders we meet every day who are changing and influencing lives in their own spheres of influence.  As leaders, we should all be students of how to influence others better.

In the book Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, Joseph Grenny et al. simplifies the conventional definition of leadership: “what qualifies people to be leaders is their capacity to influence others to change their behavior in order to achieve important results.”  After all, if there is no need to change behaviors for the better, there is no need for a leader.  We must all be that leader.

The authors outline a way to provide influence across your organization, team, or family based on three keys:

1.  Focus and Measure.  Leaders have to start by knowing what the goals truly are.  If you’re playing competitive sports, it’s the number of wins.  In teaching, it’s the critical thinking skills of the student.  In a production job, it’s the number of widgets produced.

Are you measuring the right thing?  I’ve run two different production jobs now, once at Target and once in the military.  Both organizations were hyper-focused on production metrics and could pull and promote data at the collective, team, and individual levels across hundreds of categories.  In your organization, what is the metric that matters?

Leaders need to have clear and compelling goals, and they must be what you value.  Followers will focus on what you talk about.  Make it count. 

2.  Find Vital Behaviors.  The majority of people want to be recognized for a job well done in whatever they’re doing.  They ask two questions of themselves.  Can I do it (ability)?  Am I motivated (willingness)? 

Find one or two vital behaviors that will change the way employees act.  It’s based on the Pareto Principle, where 80% of your results come from 20% of your focus.  Find the little ways to make everyone’s life easier, and your team will improve.  In the sales-type job I’m currently in, I’ve challenged my employees with two behaviors – maximize contacts and be positive when speaking with potential leads.  By focusing on these specific employee behaviors, you can provide more coaching than simply, “work harder.”  

Finding vital behaviors takes some work.  Typically, there are some obvious things that people are missing, such as failing to follow a standard operating procedure.  When coaching little league baseball, one vital behavior is keeping your eye on the ball.  If kids can just watch the ball as they swing and make contact or follow it into their glove, their performance exponentially increases.

3.  Engage all Sources of Influence.

Finally, the authors discuss the six levels of influence.  They are framed against the two drivers of ability and motivation.  These two drivers can then be applied across three domains: personal, social, and structural.

I won’t go into all six sources.  Pick up the book if you’re interested in a deeper overview.  But it did teach me that each individual has unique influence needs.

First, on a personal level, a leader can help motivate and inspire through developing purpose and allowing autonomy.  A leader’s job is to help followers by equipping them with technical and tactical skills to be successful. Whatever inspires them while building confidence, find it.

Second, no source of power is greater than social networks and encouragement.  Everyone feels the need to be accepted.  A good leader provides positive encouragement that inspires the team.  A great leader builds a network of bosses, peers, and subordinates all motivating each other.  One sentence rightly placed makes a difference!  People in teams are more creative, inventive, motivated, and invested than when operating solo.  Create networks of trust to create teamwork—a rising tide lifts all boats.

Finally, make sure the environment facilitates success.  Look around and think deeply about how changing the physical space could improve efficiency.  Do people need to move their desks to operate better?  Are the right people near each other?  Does equipment need to be brought into another room?  See what’s broken and move it. Simultaneously, provide rewards for success.  The key is to reward quickly, ensuring there is a valued prize, and link the award to a vital behavior. 

Influence is the key to leadership.  Leaders are born to help others realize their maximum standard and live up to their full potential.  Take a look around and assess what is truly important to measure.  Find vital behaviors which will significantly improve those areas.  Finally, leverage the six sources of influence to motivate and provide the ability for employees to work better based on their individual needs. 

Leaders influence!

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