Why leaders need to master the art of persuasion

How can one person get someone to do something with ease, while it's an uphill battle for someone else? The answer is being able to use influence and persuasion, without the use of power or control.


Our organizations and management styles are quickly evolving to accommodate our changing world and workforce. Gone are the days of the command and control management style and autocratic decision makers. Most best practice organizations use team approaches, and empower workers to think and perform independently. Effective communication is more important than ever, especially as workers are encouraged to ask “why?”

Technology makes information more widely available and delivered faster than ever before, forcing us to move quickly on new decisions. The more adept leaders are at the art and science of using influence and persuasion, the more likely the goals of the organization will be successfully met with less frustration and resistance.

Contrary to popular belief, persuasion is not a bad thing. Persuasion is not the same as manipulation. The difference is the intent behind the action. While persuasion can be used as a tool to manipulate, ill intent and self-serving motives are the hallmark of manipulation.

A number of psychologists, brain researchers, self-help gurus and sales training experts have added a considerable body of knowledge in recent years regarding how leaders, or anyone for that matter can be more persuasive.

Kevin Hogan, widely acknowledged as one of the foremost researchers and trainers in the area of persuasion, argues in his books, such as The Science of Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion and Covert Persuasion, focus considerably on NLP principles of mastering rapport and using non-verbal communication to first connect more powerfully with people and then influence them to help you achieve mutually beneficial goals.

Robert Cialdini, who wrote the book, Influence, and co-authored Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Way to Be Persuasive, tapped into extensive brain research to illustrate effective strategies and techniques, many of which are counter intuitive, that can be used to become more persuasive in dealing with people.

They argue that leaders, to be more effective need to activate reciprocity with people by being positive, doing good deeds, sharing information openly, and helping others and focusing on others’ positive attributes, rather than finding their weaknesses. Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford, authors of Influence Without Authority, explain how to coax cooperation from people who control resources, information and support you need to succeed.

Here are myths and realities associated with influence and persuasion:

Myth 1: Self-focused

If you frame your argument in terms of what would or does appeal to you, and present it convincingly, it would appeal to others.

Reality: An argument that appeals to the interests of others will be more persuasive.

Myth 2: Simple logic

If you present your argument with logic, facts and rationality, that will persuade others.

Reality: Facts and logic rarely persuade people to make decisions or choices. Emotions are the drivers, specifically the emotions of others, not the leaders.

Myth 3: Self-evaluation

Communication that is carefully crafted by the leader is the measure of how effective it is.

Reality: The meaning and kind of response you get from others to your communication is the only effective measure of whether it is persuasive or not.

Myth 4: Knowledge

Expert knowledge (by the leader or third party) persuades others.

Reality: The day of the expert or professional that causes others to defer and accept their judgment is over. People today are better informed and educated and believe their judgments are just as valuable as experts. One has to just look at the power of social media to see this.

Myth 5: Argument

Arguing with people about their preconceived beliefs and ideas to convince them they are wrong is a persuasive strategy.

Reality: Brain research clearly demonstrates that focus on others’ beliefs to prove them wrong just reinforces those beliefs. To be persuasive, leaders need to show that alternative and multiple perspectives have value, and accept the beliefs of others.

Myth 6: From a distant

Leaders can be persuasive from a distance.

Reality: Until the leader establishes rapport through some kind of personal connection, real persuasion and influence is not possible.

The use of influence and persuasion is a wonderful tool for moving organizations and people forward, inspiring others to reach beyond their current borders and by creating motivated teams. The best leaders have a firm grasp on how to help people be self-motivated, developing trust and ownership through the use of influence and persuasion.

What’s clear is that no matter what your organizational position, or what kinds of clients and customers you deal with, part of your success depends on being able to influence people over whom you have official or assigned control.

Author: Ray B. Williams is co-founder of Success IQ University and president of Ray Williams Associates, companies located in Phoenix and Vancouver, providing leadership training, personal growth and executive coaching services.