Definition of Influence: The Short Version

December 5, 2007

After years of studying influence, I knew the definition by rote—or I thought I did.  I’ve always seen influence defined in this way:  Influence is the ability to get work done with and through people—without formal authority. 

A statement in a blog entry by Mike Myatt pulled me up short:  Influence is built on making others successful.  Wow—that’s succinct and clear and TRUE!

Classic ways of thinking about influence as getting work accomplished without authority focus on building a base of expertise; building credibility; achieving connection with influential people and sources of information; lending a hand when necessary; appealing to people’s values and convictions; etc.  All these actions are important, but they can be summed up in the simple approach:  Influence is built on making others successful. 

Think about it:  We admire people who make us successful.  We are attracted to them.  And we will do anything we can to support their goals and aspirations.This definition allows us to have a lofty and selfish goal at the same time.  Make a commitment to contribute to someone else’s success every day.  You’ll grow as an admirable person and also as someone who has influence—the ability to get things done without formal authority.

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Avoid this Stupid Mistake #6: Break a Law of Persuasion

November 9, 2007

Here’s the situation:  On Saturday mornings my family often demonstrates a business lesson.  Saturday is the day my husband, Rick, and I enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee in bed.  We relax in each other’s company and catch up on what has happened throughout the week.  Often, after we’ve been up for a long time, our adolescent daughter, Meagan, will stumble sleepily into our room and plop down on the bed.

Here’s the stupid mistake:  Rick, who is a morning person, greets Meagan in an energetic and enthusiastic way.  “Why good morning, cute stuff—how are you doing today?”  Rick’s goal is to include Meagan in our time together—to make a happy family moment.  The problem is that the tone of Rick’s wide-awake, cheery mood contrasts sharply with Meagan’s just-woke-up, let’s-take-it-easy-and-slow mood. Invariably, she makes an adolescent groan and leaves the room. 

The fact that Meagan had wanted to join us and then leaves demonstrates that Rick has broken a law of persuasion.

Here’s the solution:  This law of persuasion is simple:  To create a connection and influence someone, you must first “match” their level of emotion and energy.  To engage Meagan on Saturday mornings, Rick needs to “match” his emotional messages to Meagan’s sleepy state.  He simply needs to tone down his volume and his energy. 

This law of persuasion holds true in any communication situation.  You’ll be most effective if you assess and “match” the energy level and emotional stance of your listeners.  When you introduce an energy mismatch into a situation, as Rick does with Meagan, you create a dissonance that makes the other person uncomfortable.  That persom might not vote with his or her feet the way Meagan does, but the internal reaction will be the same.  You can’t influence or persuade a person unless you can make the connection that begins with the emotional match.

This tip is especially important in sales situations because a mismatch in energy can lead the other person to perceive you as untrustworthy.  Nobody buys from an untrustworthy salesperson.


Lead with Influence–Secret of an NFL Rookie Coach

October 28, 2007

Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers held their collective breath as the 2007 season started.  Their new coach, Mike Tomlin, was a surprise pick by the Rooney family, who owns the team.  Pittsburghers like to win, and Tomlin was an unknown rookie.

According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article by Ron Cook, the Steeler players had concerns too when Tomlin came on board last spring.  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reminded the new coach to gain the players’ respect and commitment.  Chances are Roethlisberger didn’t have to remind Tomlin about the players’ fierce loyalty to retired coach Bill Cowher.  Cowher had led the team for 14 years, one of which featured a Super Bowl win.

By the time the 2007 season actually began, the players were solidly impressed with their new coach—Tomlin stepped up to his new position with confidence and authority.  He also, it seems, had a ready knack to lead with influence.The team responded to their new leader’s influence with a blast, decisively winning their first three games.  Exactly how did the rookie coach lead with influence?

One secret, according to Ron Cook, was to follow an expected action with an unexpected one. 

The expected:  Tomlin met with each player during the spring minicamp. 

The unexpected:  He followed those meetings with handwritten letters to many of his players.Tomlin sent his letters via the post office, not e-mail. 

Each letter was personalized and quoted the conversation Tomlin had had with the player.  In sending these letters, Tomlin extended an old-fashioned lead with influence gesture.  It didn’t cost a lot, and it didn’t take a lot of time, especially considering what was at stake. 

Tomlin reported, “I’ve just always been a guy who, if something moves me, I respond to it.  And I’ve always believed a written letter is more meaningful than an e-mail or phone call.”

The results of Tomlin’s leadership gesture are instructive, especially for those of us who hope to build influence and credibility with others.  Hines Ward, the 2005 Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, reported that he carries his letter from Tomlin in his Bible.  How’s that for influence?!

Linebacker Larry Foote explained his reaction, “He [Tomlin] proved to me that he listened and that he thought what I had to say was important.”  Defensive end Aaron Smith said the letters made a huge statement because the coach took time to write them.  Because the letters were personalized rather than mass produced, they meant a lot.  Smith filed his letter.

Based on comments from players and performance so far this season, those handwritten letters played at least some part in gaining influence and commitment for the rookie leader.  Handwritten letters might help you lead with influence as well.  It’s a good time to get out your pen.

Copyright 2007 by inCredible Messages, LP.  Permission to reprint granted with the following attribution:

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