A Leader’s First Step to Effective Influence

Guest post from Dan

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

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

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
OrbitInfluence.com to pick up your copy of Dan’s new book.