Real Influence Versus Immediate Gratification

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

How often are we disappointed when people don’t buy into our ideas or suggestions? Whether it is to develop a new product, enter a new market, hire a particular individual or implement an initiative that could help a firm’s or company’s environment, can we still rely on the tried-and-true approaches of behavior modification, carrot-and-stick-approach, or even bribery?

At one time, a decision was based on a discussion between two parties: let’s say, a buyer and seller. Today, there are many avenues by which to be manipulated, and as such people will grow another layer of cynicism. Look at what we are faced with: radio, television and magazines were and are the cudgels of persuasion. With the Internet and various social media platforms, we become targets from many directions. We are beaten over the head so much, we capitulate to promotions on the latest and greatest tech tools or other gadgets. This really isn’t influence; it’s more like browbeating or hounding.

What is the Motive to Influence?

Is instant gratification the goal of the seller or the person who endeavors to persuade? If it is, then the results will only be short-lived —over a period of time the ability to persuade or convince diminishes. This is where real influence plays a role; where a leader creates strong and consistent support from his or her direct reports. There is no template for influence; it does not involve being a specific age or level, nor is it limited to one particular industry (yes, there are non-technology companies that have and can influence).

The question a leader has to ask his or herself: Am I conveying a sense of urgency or clearly articulating my goals to my employees so they can become just as motivated and be committed to the same goals? Oftentimes, you cannot rely on your position or track record of convincing others if you are simply pushing your position because you believe it’s the right one. You may be missing the obvious. This can be considered a blind spot because you are more concerned about your own position. You have been successful at different times, but maybe there is a new generation in your company that just won’t walk blindly across hot coals because you assume your position or opinion will be accepted.

Sometimes motives are so apparent. If another person realizes that your position has narrow boundaries and that your interests or goals do not align with theirs, you may get temporary acquiescence, but over the long term, there won’t be any continuing support and a diminution of influence.

Instead of cajoling, trickery or manipulation, exert influence by trying to understand the values and desires of others and meld them with yours.

Try Different Approaches  

In any business environment, there are cliques or factions that have opposing views. To overcome this dynamic, dispense with the “divide and conquer” approach. As a leader, instead, consider the ways you can transform these disparate interest groups into allies or partners. This is an essential step toward building influence.

Rather than use manipulation to achieve a temporary concession, find ways to gain continuous agreement.

Instead of focusing on short-term “wins,” consider those actions to use as building blocks to establish your reputation and create strong and sustainable relationships to secure meaningful results.

Finally, if you run into resistance, don’t take it as a personal affront because (most times) this resistance is based on someone’s beliefs. Solicit help in understanding why there are objections to your ideas and figure how to reach a “meeting of the minds.” A cautionary note: in a group setting don’t always depend on consensus building because what the end game may in no way resemble what is best for the firm or company.

Use Honey and Not Vinegar

As a leader, if you are open to others ideas and exhibit appreciation for them, you will gain influence — and a reputation as thoughtful. Sharing appreciation is not only positive for the person who is on the receiving end, but it also has positive benefits for you. As stated earlier, you can gain supporters and backers for the long term.

People are like mirrors. Their actions will reflect how they are treated. When you thank someone directly or tout to others his or her efforts in achieving results, a stronger bond is created.

Even though we are the beginning of the holiday season, be mindful that expressing appreciation and giving credit should not be limited to a six-week period because you want your (real) influence to be year-round. It should not be incidental; neither should it be used to gain an edge over someone else. It should be a key ingredient of leadership.

As Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at www.solutions2results.com.