Saturday, May 17, 2014

Influence 101

I’ve just spent a wonderful week talking about learning, leadership and organisational behaviour in Brussels. It’s a tough gig but someone has to do it. A very full week and now it is time to head to the Netherlands for a couple of days of much needed R and R.

After my very last session, which involved mainly managers from a variety of departments I was asked a very challenging question. In fact I was asked many challenging questions during the week, which is no bad thing.  This one involved why I spent time at the beginning of the session showing slides of Australia, such as a beach near our house that is empty, snaps of me with a big fish, kangaroos on a golf course, snakes and crocodiles, that sort of thing. Then I had an activity that involved a lot of participation by the group, although there is a specific learning point at the end. He said that people come along to get to the point not look at pictures of Australia. After all they are busy people.

This was a good point. It also strikes at the heart of two issues. One is the power of influence, as opposed to compliance. The other is process in relation to task.

One of the major factors in influencing other people is the quality of the relationship. In a group setting, and this was my answer, it is important to invest some time in creating a relationship, a bond, between myself and the audience (that I often don’t know) and that doesn’t know me. Sharing stuff about me with which people identify, smiling, eye contact, moving around, using humour and getting people laughing, being relaxed and being open, creates a more positive atmosphere in which people feel more comfortable in opening up. In this particular case, the result was a very lively session where the process ended being taken over by the group. Wonderful! And it seems to work consistently when I take the time to do it.

The same applies to influence with smaller groups, such as meetings for example, and with individuals. Taking a few moments to chat about the weekend, the family (theirs and yours) and so on is an important investment. As is creating a positive relationship with one’s employees in general. Do it and watch the results.

When I run activities with leadership groups or teams in workplace training programs there is a constant. Groups and individuals when given a task will universally forget process and try to solve the probelm without planning, without establishing communication and so on. You know the leadership theory as well as I do. It seems there is a human predilection to want to go straight to solving problems rather than using all the so called ‘soft stuff’. And some people are very tasked focussed and get frustrated if there is not immediate application.

And so that is the second reason I spend time to create this relationship. It is a lesson in process that needs to come before task for the participants. It fosters engagement.

Finally, it is also vital to close with the ‘soft stuff’ too With reward and recognition. With warmth and gratitude. It doesn’t cost much and may prove to be a powerful investment.


  1. I was in a couple of your sessions in Brussels and enjoyed them and learned a lot. I've spent a good time this weekend reading some of the articles you proposed. I was talking to a friend back n Greece about your talks and what stroke me was your openness, how you talked about your emotions and your family in a relaxed, warm way, as if we knew each other for years. It was so refreshing Stewart! I also shared with friends back in Greece how you started your academic studying at 27 and did all your studies via distance education. Because of the financial crisis, which means an employment crisis people are questioning the value of studying for years without being able to earn, so your example is a very poignant one.

  2. Thanks Anna for your very kind comments. It was great to meet you and I now follow you on Twitter and it is great to have the contact. I love your enthusiasm