4 Common Misconceptions Leaders Have When It Comes To Influencing Others

Apr 15, 2016 1 Min Read


Intentionally influence others

I find it ironic that when I ask leaders—even good ones—what constitutes leadership, I often get vague, disparate, and vapid responses.

You’d think this educated and successful population could offer crisp and concrete definitions of their own crucial work. Instead, you hear a dozen tangents of real leadership like energising, visioning, pathfinding, and modelling.

Fortunately, not all leaders are missing the mark. I recently met a leader who has a concrete expression of leadership on the tip of his tongue.

Timothy Tassopoulos, executive vice president of operations for Chick-fil-A, says it this way: leadership is intentional influence. I couldn’t agree more.

For 30 years, my colleagues and I have helped leaders increase their capacity for influencing change. But it came as a surprise that prior to helping them learn how to influence, we had to draw their attention to it as their core work.

Tassopoulos, on the other hand, understands that success comes down to whether one of his 50,000 front-line associates with a few discretionary minutes decides to lean against a wall or clean tables.

Tassopoulos’s success or failure as a leader does not come down to whether he is charismatic, visionary, or inspirational, but to whether people behave in ways that improve results. Period.

Given that only a select few leaders can define leadership, it’s no surprise their performance is mediocre at best.

We studied the successes and failures of more than 1,000 leaders from fifty global companies to influence strategically critical behaviour change in their companies.

We were stunned to discover that fewer than one in twenty had any evidence of success in spite of their belief that change was crucial.

As we combed through the data, some key insights emerged that helped us understand why so few leaders either grasp or exert influence well:

Unless leaders become articulate about a repeatable and effective way to influence behaviour—they’ll continue to rack up predictably high failure rates at leading change.

1. Leaders act as if it’s not their job to address entrenched habits

Most leaders put a great deal of time into crafting strategy, selecting winning products, and engaging with analysts, shareholders and major customers.

But only few realise that the success or failure of their grand schemes lies in influencing the behaviour of the people who will have to execute on the big ideas—their employees.

By contrast, the most influential leaders—the 5% who succeed at changing behaviour—spend as much as half of their time thinking about, and actively, influencing the behaviours they know will lead to top performance. The 95% who dither and fail tend to delegate what they dismiss as 揷hange management?to others.

2. Leaders lack a theory of influence

Very few leaders can even answer the question, “How do you change the behaviour of a large group of people?” And yet, what they’re ultimately paid to do is align people to execute on decisions.

Imagine discovering, just as the anaesthesia is taking effect, that your heart surgeon—the one hovering over your chest with a scalpel—is working off a “gut hunch” about how to conduct a bypass.

Unless leaders become articulate about a repeatable and effective way to influence behaviour—they’ll continue to rack up predictably high failure rates at leading change.

3. Leaders confuse talking with influencing

Many leaders think influence consists of little more than talking people into doing things. It’s no wonder most influence efforts start with PowerPoint presentations or rallies.

But profound, persistent, and overwhelming problems demand more than verbal persuasion. Anyone who has ever tried to “talk” a smoker into quitting knows there’s a lot more to behaviour change than words.

4. Leaders believe in silver bullets

When leaders actually attempt to influence new behaviour, they commonly fall into the trap of thinking that deeply ingrained bad habits can be changed with a single technique.

They host star-studded retreats and hand out inspiring posters and think people will line up for change. Still, others believe it’s all about incentives and so they tinker with the performance management system or tie new behaviours to executive bonuses.

The research shows that when leaders rely on just one simple source of influence (like training or incentives or verbal persuasion) to drive change, they almost always fail.

Lessons learnt

Over the past 30 years, my colleagues and I have sought out and studied a different kind of leader. We’ve tried to find those who had remarkable abilities to influence change—rapidly, profoundly, and sustainably.

We’ve studied the methods used by one remarkable influencer who, with no formal authority, changed behaviour in thousands of hospitals in the United States.

We’ve looked first-hand at one influencer who saved five million lives from AIDS by influencing behaviour change in a country of 60 million.

We worked with a chief executive officer who, within 12 months, influenced deeply entrenched habits in employees with an average of 26 years tenure.

What we’ve learnt is that when you know what you’re doing, change can happen relatively quickly.
And it all starts with gaining greater clarity about what leadership really means, then finding a way of thinking about the fundamental principles of influence.

Joseph Grenny is New York Times bestselling authorkeynote speaker, and social scientist for business performance. His passion and expertise is human behaviour and its impact on business performance and relationships. He is a contributing columnist for BusinessWeek, Forbes, and Harvard Business Review. Joseph is also the co-founder of an organisation committed to teaching others how to effectively change human behaviour. To engage with him, email us at editor@leaderonomics.com. For more Be A Leader articles, click here.

Reposted with permission on Leaderonomics.com.

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Prethiba is passionate about impacting people through the written word. She believes that our lives are solely written by us, and thus the power to change for the better lies with us.

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