Central to my thinking and experience around great leadership is that ability to improve another person’s thinking.
Best practice leadership development is still dominated by ideas that originated in a quite different time from the ones we live in today. We’re still focused on competencies, frameworks and processes, before people. And we’re still focused on those same people’s observable performance – with a lot less thought for what’s driving that performance.
Enter: a brain-based approach. Because today, our people are good. They’re paid to think. And it’s no longer about telling them what to do, but facilitating positive change by helping them think better.
In this 3-part weekly series, we’re going to apply a brain-based approach to 3 key skills for stand-out performance, starting here with: INFLUENCE.
Influence gets a bad rep
For many of us, “influence” has a negative connotation. We hear instead “manipulation” – as a result of the bad reputation influence gets from liars, cheats and pushy, high-pressure salesmen. We might even associate it with very politically-motivated colleagues.
But of course, we’re all constantly asking people to change their behaviour to benefit us in some way. Any request we make of another person does just that. And that’s ok: if our request is legitimate, sensible and reasonable.
And so in those scenarios: why not make our influence as powerful as possible? And as a leader, to do so in a way that engenders commitment and progress towards a common goal.
There are 8 brain-based factors that powerfully amp our influence and impact, especially in the leadership context.
Take a look at the list below. And as you do: notice which you’ve seen applied at work in a way that appeals to you; and consider what changes you might like to make to bring more of your influence to the table.
- Rapport is not simply about being liked and trusted. It’s about making a connection; and establishing a clear channel of communication that exists in the space between you. We know when we’re in rapport because the conversation just flows. We know when to be bold – and when to be subtle. When to speak – and when to listen.
- To build good rapport quickly, start with physiology. Notice the overall speed at which the other person is thinking, speaking and moving. And then make small changes to your own physiology to reduce the differences between you. But here’s the thing: don’t copy them. That will undo any rapport quicker than anything.
- One of the most useful tips I remind myself of, whenever working on rapport with a client is simply: dial it back. On the whole, people want to connect and be friendly. And so we don’t need to do too much. Over-excitement, over-eagerness and generally trying too hard can reduce rapport: they feel somehow threatening. Instead, be warm and open, smile, say a friendly hello and take a genuine interest in the other person.
- Utilisation is about working with what’s already there. Instead of minimising or ignoring an issue, objection or counter-opinion, utilisation is about embracing it and turning it to an advantage. If someone is fixated on a reason no to do something, use that useful information as the catalyst to find a perfect solution. If someone wants to do something completely outlandish, say “great, how would that work?” – and iron out the details later.
- When we understand the concept of utilisation, resistance almost ceases to exist: because even the “resistance” is, itself, useful energy waiting to be converted to a more constructive purpose. And so utilisation can make us influential with the most unlikely material. Simply: get clear on your outcome; start with what you have; and make it work from there.
- All thing being equal, we value what’s in short supply; and devalue what’s in abundance. We want what we cannot have. We chase what runs away. We strive for things just out of reach.
- To have more influence: make you and your offer scarce. Pull away at the key moment in a deal. Promote exclusivity. Speak less for the words you do say to have more impact. Scarcity is motivating for those around you. Make sure you use it to full advantage.
- We’re so accustomed to accepting authority, our brains shortcut to acceptance. Notice it now: we ask very few questions of those that act with, or carry the indicators of, authority.
- The authority isn’t always real; and it isn’t always relevant. But we follow it just the same.
- Authority is one of the simplest ways to exert influence. With authority, when you ask for something reasonable, and you ask with confidence and courtesy, most of the time you get it. Just by asking.
- To amp your authority: dress the part; act the part.
- Our brains are connection machines. And so, if I want you to like something: I put it alongside something or someone you already like. And you make the association.
- As a leader looking to motivate and persuade, you can use association is any number of ways to support your position. But the key is to stay authentic to yourself and your values.
- Ask yourself now: how could I improve my influence and impact at work by association. Who could I associate with? What associations could I draw for my clients with my product or service? What associations could I install for my team with our overall objectives?
#6. Social Proof
- One of the most common drivers of human behaviour is social proof. Whatever everyone else is doing, we go along with it too. And all the more if the person we’re following is someone we can relate to, looks the part and looks like they know what they’re doing.
- This informal learning is very useful: right from childhood through to adulthood; for our little corner of the world, and for society at large. It’s how we learn the majority of the social and professional conventions we adhere to.
- Social proof, in the leadership context, starts with simply: leading by example. Where you go (with conviction and determination),your team follows. Other examples might include testimonials, case studies and other client logos for a pitch; or introducing expert opinion or research to the argument; or showing the raw numbers. There are all sorts of examples: how might you use social proof to get the backing you need?
- Reciprocity is an automatic human response. We hate to feel indebted. So when someone does us a favour or gives us a gift, we have a strong desire to do something in return: to remove that uncomfortable feeling of indebtedness.
- As you read this, perhaps your first thoughts are for a potentially dishonest application of this influencing tactic. Underhand marketing campaigns, and so on. But know that reciprocity is also a force for good, helping businesses to develop and societies to grow.
- To use your reciprocity for good: go into your world of work with random acts of kindness, compliments, generosity and politeness. Notice the goodwill you generate; and how the work environment is kinder to you in return. And no need to be lavish; or expectant of something in return. Simple be kind, helpful and generous.
- As human beings, we love to appear consistent, especially when the position we take is done publicly. We like to think we’re open-minded. But it’s often not the case. Because our ego gets involved. And our ego is only interested in two things: being right; and looking good.
- There are two distinct directions to employ consistency at work: for self; and for others. For ourselves, simply being aware of our burning need to be consistent can help us spot flaws in our thinking. As when we find ourselves doggedly sticking to our initial argument, in spite of strong contrary evidence.
- And for others, it’s useful to know how consistency makes it difficult for someone to move away from an initial position. So when moving someone towards our own viewpoint, we need to be gracious and do it in small steps. And where possible, find aspects of another’s persons position that are consistent with the overall goal – and so, lessen their resistance to changing position.
A brain-based approach to influence
We are all influencers. And we are all being influenced.
A brain-based approach puts us a little more in the know; and a little ahead of those around us. Very useful for managers trying to deliver; leaders trying to inspire; and professionals trying to accelerate career.
Next time in the “Brain-based Approach for Stand-out Leadership” series: CHARISMA.