Archive for the 'Influence' Category


I’m back at my Meisner acting class. Barbara likes to say:

an actor without an opinion is like an athlete without a game plan!

It’s a powerful idea. Actors who have strong opinions have presence. You can’t take your eyes off them! Their scenes are compelling.

Is it a powerful idea in business? An opinion could be a vision, mission, strategy or a value. But opinions sound like they are more personal, less corporate. Personal opinions have a stronger influence on behaviour – in acting, in business and in life.

Should leaders have stronger personal opinions?  Is this what makes them so effective? I often wonder if we are developing  a cohort of senior managers in leadership competency, only to find they don’t have a personal opinion on what leadership means to them. Their leadership understanding and knowledge doesn’t translate into compelling action. I think leadership should start with a strong personal opinion on life.

Perhaps also, it is easier to trust people with strong opinions?  You may not agree with their opinion.  But strong opinions make people more purposeful, have a stronger presence and more predictable in their behaviour.

Strong opinions may be powerful, but they may also be dangerous. It obviously depends on what the opinion is. But more dangerously, opinions start to define how you see and experience the world in ways that reinforce themselves. Always dangerous in a rapidly changing world.

Perhaps we can all have strong opinions that are loosely held? Is that possible?


Push Me Pull Me

I recently spotted some interesting research by Ronald Friedman and Jens Forster. They’re a couple of social psychologists.

In 2002 experiements the found that ingrained in our brains is an association between the act of pulling and positive feelings. While the act of pushing is associated with negative feelings.

I think it’s fascinating how interconnected the mind and body are!

Also it’s fascinating that the current business trend to greater consumer pull (rather than organisational push) has a foundation in neuro-physiology! Is this why pull works better in business and organisations?

Applied to communication ‘pull’ is less about pre-designed messages and channels and more about listening, empathisising, provoking, and engaging in the moment. It’s more about letting meaning emerge. It’s less about leading and more about meeting.

Well sometimes anyway.

Thought leadership

I’m sensing an increasing premium on thought leadership at the moment. We’re living at a time of significant change. A time of opportunity surely, but also danger.

Anything that supports and develops better and more creative thinking should be encouraged. There’s a lot more value in thinking differently at the moment. There’s a lot more value in thinking for ourselves. That’s why I love Twitter as a channel for connecting with a wider perspective on what’s happening in the world. Individual ‘tweets’ may be low value, but hearing how others are thinking makes you think differently. Valuable thoughts emerge from the diverse and potent mix of stimulating ideas. It can’t be premeditated though! You just need to let it happen.

In this spirit, here is an intriguing conversation with  Robert Sapolsky (a Stanford neurobiologist) about Toxo!

It probably has very little to do you’re day job. Unless you’re a neurobiologist!

But I hope it makes you go “wow”. I hope it makes you think about how little we know. I hope it creates an openness to different ideas. I hope it stimulates a curiosity to learn more. I hope it helps you to be a stronger thought leader. And I hope you find it stimulating enough to subscribe to

Influence Strategies

One of the most powerful aspects of leadership is the ability to influence others. It is also one of it’s most illusive.

It may be useful to think first about your Influence Strategy.

Here are four possible Influence Strategies

  1. The Direct Strategy – used when the relationship is strong, your proposal is within the range of acceptable options and opposing proposals are relatively weak.  Build a strong rational case with the supporting evidence needed to convince your audience. Focus on the benefits of your proposal in relation to your audience’s values.
  2. The Indirect Strategy – used when other options may be better positioned than your proposal. Put your specific proposal aside and focus on changing the ground rules for discussion. Change the agenda. If the agenda is rational, make it emotional or political. If the agenda is Process Improvement, make it Customer or another agenda that makes your proposal a stronger option.
  3. The Divide & Conquer Strategy – used when parts of your proposal are acceptable and others aren’t. Focus on convincing your audience about those aspects that are likely to be accepted. Build from agreement and a stronger track record. Alternatively, focus on those parts of your audience who can be convinced.
  4. The Hold Strategy – used when the timing of your proposal isn’t good. Stop influencing and focus on building a relationship of mutual understanding. The right proposal and timing will emerge.

I’ve always felt that most mistakes start at the beginning. Choosing the right Influence Strategy at the start –  can save time, money and reputations later on.




Been thinking a little about influence without advocacy.

I was reminded of an old story of a long ago US presidential campaign. I think it was Roosevelt. The story goes that millions of campaign posters were printed with Roosevelt’s photo. Unfortunately no-one had obtained permission from the photographer. Instead of seeking permission and negotiating a fee with the photographer. Someone suggested approaching the photographer with an opportunity to have his photo on millions of campaign posters. How much would the photographer pay? They accepted his first offer!

I’m not commenting on the ethics!  But it’s interesting how reframing the problem resulted in a significantly different outcome. The frame influenced the choice that was made. Different frames, different choices

There are two frames worth thinking about:

  • buy or sell eg. Roosevelt story
  • life or death (positive or negative)

eg. Tversky and Kahneman  (1981)

Others might be:

  • simple or complex
  • quality or quantity
  • vision or execution
  • individual or group
  • change or status-quo

More soon…

Influence without Advocacy

I had a boss once who was a master of making you think it was your idea.

George was able to create the right  context. To get you thinking. To wait to recognise behaviours and conversations that seemed to be heading in the direction he wanted. He would ask great questions, which although leading didn’t appear to be driven by his agenda. He’d tell stories and leave them hanging, without explaining. He’d let others join the dots. But would take care in where the dots were. He built great relationships and others admired and respected him.

He didn’t lead with his position and agenda. When others would have. He could influence without advocating a position or agenda. He had them, but didn’t advocate them. He let others arrive at his conclusions. They were always their positions and their agendas. Without obvious positions and agenda, he was irresistable!

George made  subtlety work. With great questions and illuminating stories.

I’ve seen examples recently where well-meaning and genuine advocacy has polarised stakeholders.

Is advocacy as an influencing tool losing its effectiveness? Is it time for subtlety?

Concrete specificity

For a quick start like me, building sustainable momentum is a bit of a challenge.

Earlier in my career, one of my bosses used to drive me crazy with her decision making. She was slow. She seemed to take an excessive time to come to a decision. Sometimes up to 20-40 minutes! That’s not long, but it was to me. I’d make an in-principle decision very quickly. Maybe in 2 minutes. She would ask question after question and I’d get frustrated. We would come to the same conclusion mostly. But the real difference came  when taking action. She was ready to start, I wasn’t.

The documentary I’m planning to film proves the point. I’ve enrolled people but struggled with action and momentum. I wasn’t specific enough about what I wanted to say. So taking action was hard. Finding the right people was hard. I’ve had to go back to the story I want to tell, and get a lot clearer about it. Make it a lot more specific. I’ve now done this by writing a high-level script. I’m ready to re-engage.

It seems one of the challenges of leadership is crafting the right level of specificity into a meaningful mission and communication. Too little and it’s difficult to take action. Too much and people don’t engage. But what is the right amount of specificity?

I enjoyed reading Chip and Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick” last year. It’s worth reading if you haven’t already. One of their concepts is that of ‘concreteness’. Language by nature is abstract, but life isn’t. Their suggestion is to avoid expertise language and talk about specific people doing specific things. That make’s your message concrete. I think that’s a useful idea for leaders as communicators.

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