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How to Exercise More Influence

Even the best managers can fall into the trap of defining influence as something they do to someone else to get what they want.

February 7, 2013
Related Topics: Performance Management, Management, Performance Management, Business Acumen
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More than ever before, people in today’s organizations know when self-serving tactics and techniques are being used to influence them. Even the best managers can fall into the trap of defining influence as something they do to someone else to get what they want.

The alternative is to use real influence to inspire buy-in and commitment.

To learn how the best of the best do it, we conducted more than 100 interviews with high-level influencers in business, government, nonprofits, sports and the arts. One of the key lessons we learned is this: Do more than others expect before and after your interactions with them.

Do more before: When you begin interactions this way — by doing more and sometimes taking a risk in the process — you form instant bonds with people who are tired of being ripped off, manipulated or given minimum service. You immediately prove that you’re not just in it for yourself. This stands out so much that people tell others and soon your good reputation goes viral.

David Bradford, former CEO of Fusion-io, did exactly that, and it led to the addition of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to Fusion-io, which helped drive the organization’s success.

Bradford didn’t target Wozniak. Instead, one of his random acts of doing more led to a cascade of positive results. Bradford, who at the time was living in Utah, had a friend whose son was moving to the state and needed help setting up his law practice. Bradford obliged, helping to get the young man connected and raising his visibility.

A few months later, because of this connection, Bradford received a request to speak at the Utah Bar Association. It was in Sun Valley, a five-hour drive for him, and he’d be speaking to a small group. Many people would have considered it a waste of time, but Bradford cheerfully agreed.
After the speech, he stayed for lunch. As it turned out, the keynote speaker was Wozniak.

Chance led Wozniak’s executive assistant to sit right next to Bradford, and they struck up a conversation. She observed that Wozniak would probably enjoy the opportunity to speak with Bradford, joking that he’d welcome a kindred spirit from the information technology world in a room full of lawyers.

Bradford and Wozniak spoke, and it turned out that Wozniak had his eye on trends that Fusion-io was exploring. Later Bradford sent him materials and asked if he’d like to be a part of the advisory board. Wozniak said yes, and went on to take the role of chief scientist.

Chance? Maybe. But in the bigger picture, the Bradfords of the world don’t think of it as blind chance. They think this is how it works. It’s about a mindset that starts not with results, but with relationships.

Do more after: Once we conclude an interaction, it’s natural to mentally mark it as completed and move on. But if you want to practice real influence, you need to realize that doing more doesn’t end when an interaction does.

Instead, look for other ways to extend your positive influence. Think about people and causes that are important to another person. Can you assist with a person’s charity work? Refer clients to the person’s business? Lend a hand to someone else who’s important in the person’s life, as Bradford did by helping his friend’s son establish his law practice? When you do more in ways like this, it keeps your connection alive.

Also, think forward. Ask: Can we do this better in the future? If the answer is yes, share your ideas. Always look for ways to express genuine gratitude.

Do more for the right reasons: When you do more, always remember that you’re not giving to get. When you find ways to help other people learn, grow, gain, avoid problems, make progress and achieve their goals, you form the basis for ongoing results, enriched relationships and an integrity-based reputation. And that will lead — in ways you can’t foresee — to real influence.

Mark Goulston and John Ullmen are the authors of Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In. They can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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