Influence is the key to any leadership role. Some folks do not like talking about it, but power and influence are natural phenomena in organizations and in leadership roles. People who want power and influence often try not to appear as if they are seeking it, and some people who have power and influence are reticent about how they actually got it.
Research into the area of power and influence is fascinating. In one notable study, 165 managers were asked to write short descriptions of occasions when they influenced their bosses, co-workers, or employees. (See Kipnis, Schmidt, Swaffin-Smith, and Wilkinson, “Patterns of Managerial Influence,” Organizational Dynamics.) The responses from these 165 managers were condensed and rewritten into a 58-item questionnaire that was then administered to over 750 managers. In this questionnaire, the managers were asked both how and why they influenced people in the workplace.
This research identified seven key influence tactics:
(1) Reason: Using facts and data to bolster your request.
(2) Assertiveness: Using a direct and forceful approach, such as demanding compliance, ordering others to do what is asked, and pointing out rules that must be followed.
(3) Friendliness: Creating goodwill by being affable and acting humble prior to making your request.
(4) Sanctions: Doling out punishments or distributing rewards.
(5) Coalition: Getting the support of others to back your idea, proposal, or request.
(6) Bargaining: Negotiating with others for the exchange of benefits or favors.
(7) Higher authority: Gaining the support of others at higher levels in the organization to back up your idea, proposal, or request.
The researchers discovered that the managers did not rely equally on the seven influence tactics. When the managers were interacting with their superiors, the most commonly used tactics (in order of frequency) were reason, coalition, friendliness, and bargaining. When the managers were interacting with their subordinates, the most commonly used tactics (in order of frequency) were reason, assertiveness, friendliness, and coalition. Interestingly, the use of sanctions was the least popular influence tactic by the managers. What’s more, the managers who controlled resources valued by others, or who were perceived to have more power than others, used a greater variety of influence tactics and employed assertiveness more often than did managers with less power.
To be an effective leader, you need to know which influence tactic to use in which situation. This leadership skill often separates the great leaders from the rest.
So, what influence tactics do you use?
Scott Derrick is the Director of Professional Development at the Senior Executives Association, a nonprofit professional association of career federal executives. Scott is also an executive coach and leadership consultant with the Federal Executive Development Group LLC, a consulting company specializing in leadership development in the federal sector. The views expressed here are his own.