You can’t make me!

(but I can be persuaded)

persuasive influenceLeadership, by definition, prohibits the use of coercive power.

Think of a time in your adult life when someone forced you to do something despite your better judgment or convictions. How did that affect your relationship with that person or your inclination to act as that person subsequently directed?

Chances are, not positively. True leadership—the kind that derives not from position or title, but through mastering the art of positively influencing people—is the only way to mutually elevate and empower lives, institutions and ideals.

The more proficient a leader becomes in the persuasive arts, the more likely the goals of the organization will be successfully met—and with less hindrance and resistance. (I am not speaking of manipulation here, which is the devious, dark side of controlling people: such is a coercive tool for dictatorial purposes.)

Abraham Lincoln, a lawyer by profession, recognized that this sometimes-illusive and counterintuitive practice does produce desirable results. Before he ever took on the mighty challenge of preserving the entire nation, he discouraged his clients to resort to litigation. Instead, he advised, “persuade your neighbors to compromise wherever you can.”

In Lincoln’s 19th century eloquent prose, he expounded on this intentional tactic: “When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and a true maxim, that ‘a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’ So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which … is the great high road to his reason, and which, once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause.”

“On the contrary,” Lincoln continued, “assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself… and you shall no more be able to [reach] him than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.”

Such folksy wisdom of the ages is now being buttressed by scientific research that shows that developing a respectful personal rapport with people enables the persuasive power that in turn exerts influence to effect change and achieve worthy goals. Not only does it move people and things onward and upward, it expands borders and motivates teams. It constructs possibilities, cements trust, and assembles ownership. It empowers mind, body and spirit for a better world.

And while persuasive leadership remains artful in its interpretation, its practice is open to anyone (you!) who applies the principles of the social science to the situation at hand. Here are seven suggestions to increase your persuasive influence, no matter what position you hold or where you are in life:

1. Be exemplary.  Encourage affinity by being genuinely positive, enthusiastic, and unselfish. Do more than the minimum to maintain your interpersonal relationships; exceed expectations.

2. Be trustworthy.  Earn trust with your peers, associates, bosses and clients by remaining readily open, transparent, truthful and teachable.

3. Be involved.  Engage in shared experiences to create positive learning and sharing environments that promote team building and strengthening individual commitments.

4. Be we-oriented, not me-oriented.  Focus on mutual strengths and desired outcomes; avoid detailing others’ weaknesses and shortcomings.

5. Be consistent and persistent.   Consistently validate the relationship with enduring personal investments and practical, value-added contributions.

6. Be certain.  Know your audience and your stuff. Be convinced of your data, your rationale, and your vision.

7. Be articulate.  Develop and practice eloquence: say it clearly and show it creatively. Fluently and effectively express your ideals.

MasterPoint: Persuasiveness is power.