Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Leader’s First Step to Effective Influence

Guest post from Dan Mann

Leadership is about one thing: influencing adult behavior. Ironically, that’s one of the most difficult human actions to accomplish.

In our positions as leaders—whether that’s as a manager, owner, coach or something less traditional—our daily task is to influence the decisions of those under our charge. We’re tasked with the job of bending their wills and actions to the benefit of the greater good of our business or cause. But adults are free-thinking, strong-willed beings. Unlike children, their minds aren’t malleable sponges, and these old dogs are often reluctant to learn new tricks.

That’s not to say that it can’t be done. I’ve spent the past 30 years in leadership roles and, over the past [decade?], in leadership development through the Mann Group. Through my courses like Mann U, I’ve helped some of the country’s largest specialty retailers and manufacturers run well and, most importantly, lead well.

These “students” I get to mentor are the best of the best when it comes to leadership, and yet, they’re not perfect. They all site troublesome employees who just don’t listen and share stories of how changing their actions was often seemingly impossible. Over the years, their notes prompted me to look more closely into how exactly adult behavior change works.

As it turns out, the steps to influence are not some complex algorithm, but just straightforward, intentional movements.

The first step in influence, for example, is simple: establish context.

What does that mean? It means that in order to influence others, you need to start with yourself. Ask yourself this elementary questions: what’s your cause?

Before you begin to train anyone else, you need to be very clear on what it is you’re trying to establish in them and why. This doesn’t have to be some grand vision or life plan (although it certainly can be); it just needs to make sense to you, so it can make sense to the people you’re influencing. Once you have a clear vision of your intention, it’s possible to share it with others and to translate into a language they can understand. It’s impractical and actually impossible to influence the behavior of others if you’re not direct in your intention; you get distracted and a clear message is hidden behind other ideas. But when you approach influence with a clear and concise objective, you can package it into digestible bites for your employees or “students.”

So once you’ve established your own cause, you can build context for your trainee. And this is where those stubborn wills come into play.

When you’re trying to influence someone, their initial reaction will differ inherently from that of a child because they won’t just take what you say at face value. In fact, they may not want to listen at all; they could be distracted or purely argumentative.

As adults, their gut reaction will be to question the influence you’re trying to sway over them. Understand that questions like “ What are we working on?” “Why are we working on it?” “How long will this take?” and “What’s in it for me?” will inevitably be circulating through their minds. Whether they speak them out loud or not, your students are asking them, and failing to address them is fatal to effectively changing their behavior long term. 

That’s why being so clear in your cause is integral to effective influence. Because you’ve already established your objective internally, you can effectively address each of these questions. When you’re clear in your own objectives, it’s easy to persuade your students of the validity of your cause.

Answering these questions—like what they’re doing and why—doesn’t just convince your student that it’s worthwhile, which immediately changes their perspective and gains their attention. It also establishes trust, which is the trademark of long-term influence. You’re no longer a monarch demanding attention from your subjects; you’ve set yourself on equal footing, and your student is more likely to respect and incorporate your ideas into his own objectives.

At the outset of your training, establish what you’re doing, why you’re there, how long it will take and what your student will gain. Be clear in your cause so they can be too. Once you’ve prepped them for the benefits of the training about to take place, actual influence can occur.

About the author:
Influencing adult behavior is perfectly possible, you just have to understand how. Dan Mann is a 30 year veteran of leadership and leadership training. His new book, ORBiT:The Art & Science of Influence, offers a six-step system for influencing adult behavior. To learn the five steps that follow “Establish Context,” visit to pick up your copy of Dan’s new book.

1 comment:

Jen Duke said...

I appreciated this view point. I am in the reverse situation, of being the trainee, not the trainer. I am mentally logging away these notes for when I am in charge. I know that the people I am working under ( are all great in these areas too. Thanks for giving me some tips for conversations.