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Enhancing Your Personal Leadership Skills: Influence and Persuasion

03.06.19 | Susan Duncan

Traditionally, firm leaders used a top-down, authoritarian style. Change initiatives, strategic and operational objectives and new policies were announced using a “command and control” approach, dictating what needed to be done and by when. Decisions and outcomes often were predetermined by the managing partner or an executive committee and imposed upon others at the firm.

While this commanding approach was effective when power was held in the hands of a few rainmakers, leadership and power in today’s firms are dispersed over many partners. Younger generations have a desire for greater meaning and involvement in their firms and are likely to render dictatorial leadership ineffective. Instead, current and aspiring leaders are learning the power of influence and persuasion to effectively address management challenges and to develop and execute effective policies and strategies for growth and improvement efforts.

Influential Leadership

Whether one is a leader or not, being able to influence people is an essential skill to master.  Having a role or title does not guarantee effective leadership; persuasion or acceptance of new ideas and policies are only achieved using carefully considered and well-executed approaches.  The definition of influence is: “to cause someone to change a behavior, belief, or opinion or to cause something to be changed.”  In today’s world, things are changing rapidly, forcing leaders to adapt and innovate, and new generations want to have a greater role in collaborating in and contributing to new initiatives that have meaning and bring value to their organizations.

In order to influence others, you will have to be able to sell your ideas and get others to follow you.   Getting others involved and making them a part of your thought process and decisions will help build trustworthiness.  Others will want to know how something you propose affects or benefits them. This will necessitate your ability to influence using four approaches: through logical appeals and evidence, emotional appeals to their values and ideals, consultative appeals in which you ask for their advice based on experience and expertise and/or cooperative appeals where you provide assistance and resources.

Influencing others doesn’t mean being right, pushing your point of view or manipulating someone to reach the conclusion you want.  Persuasion requires good communication skills and will occur only when you are:

  • Able to align common goals and values with the person/people you are trying to persuade – what they will gain, how it benefits them
  • Viewed as credible by building and promoting your credentials (without being arrogant or a braggart,) citing credible sources and using data and examples to illustrate your rationale
  • Able to overcome any bad first impressions and enhance your likability

John Ullmen, PhD., an executive coach and professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management is the author of Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In. He offers eighteen influence methods:

  1. Provide rational analysis
  2. Cite credible sources
  3. Reference legitimate policies, rules or standards
  4. Establish urgency or scarcity
  5. Demonstrate pain and gain
  6. Build alliances and coalitions
  7. Use social proof
  8. Initiate reciprocation or exchange
  9. Encourage commitments and consistency
  10. Present striking comparisons or contrasts
  11. Add impact to your ideas
  12. Align with shared values or principals
  13. Connect to strategy or high-level goals
  14. Build rapport, relationship and trust
  15. Like and be likeable
  16. Request help or advice
  17. Be influenceable
  18. Lead by example

Terry R. Bacon has conducted years of research on power and influence and found that there are four primary skill areas that individuals must master in order to be effective at influence that are associated with twenty-eight specific skills. They are communication and reasoning, assertiveness, interpersonal and interaction.  His study found that there are fourteen skills that have the potential to be most impactful. The first four skills also are the most difficult to learn.

Influence Skill Category Learning Difficulty Potential Impact
1.       Convincing people to help you convince others Interaction Very high Very high
2.       Resolving conflicts and disagreements among others Interaction Very high Very high
3.       Bargaining or negotiating Interaction Very high Very high
4.       Using a compelling tone of voice Assertiveness Very high Very high
5.       Using authority without appearing heavy handed Assertiveness High Very high
6.       Taking the initiative to show others how to do things Interaction High Very high
7.       Building consensus Interaction High Very high
8.       Behaving authoritatively Assertiveness Very high High
9.       Using assertive non-verbals Assertiveness Very high High
10.   Having insight into what others value Interpersonal High High
11.   Probing Communication and reasoning High High
12.   Finding creative alternatives Communication and reasoning Medium High
13.   Supporting and encouraging others Interpersonal Medium High
14.   Building rapport and trust Interpersonal Low High

Law firms that are run as partnerships where individuality and autonomy are highly prized, can be difficult environments to get noticed and get ahead.  Governance often is achieved by consensus and as firms get larger, they are relying on more partners and professionals to lead and manage groups of people. In this context, being able to persuade and influence others will be an important leadership skill to master.