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How do we make friends and influence people and does it matter how we do it?

There is a plethora of literature on leadership and influence with many leaders actively developing their influencing skills in order to gain buy-in to their vision for the organisation.  But what is behind this? How are decisions made and how can people use different sources of power to drive the agenda?

All too often people assume that they need to have responsibility for the resources and the people to ensure that the right decisions are made and implemented. In this way, they will use their authority to achieve objectives. However, the world is changing. In a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), organisations need to be more nimble and people have the opportunity to make a difference in many cases without the formal power of position and authority. Even when people have formal power, they may not have legitimacy; that is, others do not recognise their authority. In those situations, there is a need to supplement their formal power with informal means to gain commitment from others.

The World Economic Forum at Davos highlighted leadership priorities for 2017 (1). They indicated that leaders must be responsive and receptive to signals and must couple this with a strong vision based on authentic values. Trust is vital; especially given that not everyone respects the automatic power of the leader. This is particularly true with respect to the millennial generation. Millennials do not always recognise or value the opinion of the leader simply because of their position, but instead look for people they can trust, respect and who have a clear sense of purpose.

Today’s economic, technological, environmental and social challenges can only be addressed through global private and public collaboration. In this context, the way leaders behave is fundamentally different.  Increasingly there is a need to involve others beyond our own sphere of influence. The same is true in a business context. Increasingly leaders must operate beyond their silos and functions and therefore they need to influence people over whom they have no direct authority.

“Increasingly leaders must operate beyond their silos and functions and therefore they need to influence people over whom they have no direct authority.”

How to Enhance Influence

We all recognise situations when we do not have direct control over our resources and we need to gain commitment from other people. There is a wealth of data and advice about how to influence others and to persuade our colleagues to harness their resources to meet the overall objectives.

We know that some people are naturally more persuasive than others and that social confidence and an engaging style can enhance impact. Furthermore, many managers and leaders invest in learning the skills that will enhance their influence and impact. There is a skills component to the art of persuasion but the most effective influencers also use empathy and emotional intelligence to understand the perspective of the other person and therefore how to position their arguments.

We can readily enhance our impact by thinking about win:win scenarios and by creating a narrative that is persuasive and has high impact. This is when rhetoric becomes increasingly important.  We want to appeal to the emotions of the audience (the pathos), to present logical and cohesive arguments (the logos) and to focus on the values that support or criticise our decision to act (the ethos). My colleague, Mark Goodridge picks up on these ‘three pillars of persuasion’ in his article.

“There is a skills component to the art of persuasion but the most effective influencers also use empathy and emotional intelligence to understand the perspective of the other person and therefore how to position their arguments.”

The latest research by Rolf Hoefers and Sandy Green, at INSEAD and California State University (2), highlights that rhetoric is not a one way communication, it is dependent on the audience.  They suggest that arguments shape people’s reasoning and judgement because they reflect a direct appeal to pathos, logos and ethos. They highlight the importance of the interaction between the speaker and the audience.  This shapes how the arguments are presented by the speaker and then interpreted by the audience.  Indeed, the more the leader understands their audience the better, as he or she can adapt their style and use a combination that will resonate with the audience.

This is something we have observed in our OE Cam coaching practice.  It is not uncommon for us to encounter leaders who have learned to use a specific influencing style but then find that it does not always work with new teams or other stakeholders.  We support them to re-learn their skills and to widen their capability to influence using different approaches and to take into account the preferred style and receptivity of the stakeholders.  For some people, the relationship is all-important so an appeal to their values will strike a chord.  They need to feel trust and mutual respect.  For others, logic and facts are paramount and they find it frustrating when argument alone does not work.  For some, pathos is important as they primarily react to the emotional impact of the argument.  This can be driven by how they feel and how much the argument reinforces and upholds their position.

For example, we frequently coach Finance Directors whose training, background and inclination will be to stick to the facts, data and logic when trying to convince others.  In a recent coaching session, the FD was explaining how he had been ‘very clear’ with the Commercial Director but was making no headway with him.  As we explored the situation, it was clear that the Commercial Director operated more on his intuition and that he had an emotional reaction to the facts presented by the FD.  Additionally he felt that the FD was stopping progress and not listening to his point of view.  The Finance Director was able to find different ways to influence the Commercial Director.  He built trust and showed his appreciation of the Commercial Director’s needs.  The outcome was that both worked together more effectively.  In the long term, the Finance Director was able to use his influence and informal power to shape the outcome.

Sources of Power

When we reflect on power we often think about powerful people in a political context. We can all think of examples of absolute power such as North Korea’s president Kim Jong-Un or politicians who have used their power for common good, e.g. Abraham Lincoln. In the business context, much has been written about the roles of the CEO or the Executive Board in creating the vision, mission and direction and in building culture and values that guide and direct the whole organisation.

The research highlights different sources of power and how different leaders will exercise these in different environments.  In fact, when we look at collective bargaining there is a clear power relationship between the parties.  In this context, we can think about three key perspectives on power: personal, persuasive and coercive. In situations where people want to achieve a win:win scenario a combination of these three power sources is most productive.


Personal power

This is the power that comes from personal ability and credibility. This links to ethos. The more the individual has personal credibility the better for them to exercise informal power and to influence others. Indeed, if this is missing, then gaining buy-in and commitment from others can be problematic. We find that in a business context, the credibility and personal power is very important even when the individual does not have direct control over resources. So, those people who have personal power and are credible will be listened to by others. This makes the job of getting others on-board that much easier. Good examples of this can be seen in matrix management organisations where respect from others and credibility enables directors to achieve their goals and vision across the organisation.

Persuasive power

This is about the force of the argument and the strength of the case that is presented. This combines both pathos and logos. People with persuasive power know how to present the information and what information will work for which audiences. This is fundamental in a bargaining situation when you need to get others to shift their position and to agree to a course of action that may not be their preferred way forward.

Coercive power

This is derived from the ability to force a favourable settlement through threats and sanctions. This comes from more formal power. At times, this is a useful way to achieve objectives, at least in the short-term, but ultimately other forms of power gain more buy-in and longer-term commitment to action.


“We want to appeal to the emotions of the audience (the pathos), to protect logical and cohesive arguments (the logos) and to focus on the values that support or criticise our decision to act (the ethos).”

Bargaining power is the ability to gain acceptance of a preferred position.  It depends on the styles, approaches and bargaining positions of both parties.  In a negotiation, the balance of power shifts and wanes and the overall aim is to achieve a win:win.

For most leaders, they may use bargaining and negotiation and on a day-to-day basis they are trying to influence stakeholders to follow their lead and to focus on their core priorities. These stakeholders will have competing demands on their time, loyalty and resources.  In these situations, understanding how best to influence the person is a critical factor.  If the leader can build trust and respect and they can position the arguments with that unique combination of ethos, logos and pathos then they will be onto a winning combination.

The most adept leaders can shift between styles and approaches to maximise each situation.  Therefore, agility, emotional intelligence combined with a savvy approach to influencing people will win the day.  Getting the right balance is not always easy and takes practice.


Making the most of Collaboration but Retaining Accountability

An area where informal power and influence is critical is in enabling effective organisations at both a local and global level.  For example, there is often a trade-off between local short term objectives and longer term global goals.  Leaders in situ take accountability for local results but need to also collaborate with and influence global leaders.  Similarly, the global leaders have accountability for overall product streams, technologies or functions.  They both need to work together as neither can achieve their goals without the co-operation of the other.  The local manager is responsible for his or her financial targets but wants to influence global policy and priorities whilst the global leaders need an appreciation of the local markets and to get them on board with global perspectives.  Often there are cultural differences to add to the mix.

In this case, each is directly responsible for their team’s results but has accountability for the whole process.  Only by working together can the overall vision be realised.  Both sets of leaders need to collaborate but also need to influence each other.  So, the power relationships are critical to the final outcomes as both the country managers and the global leaders work to achieve their goals and that of the organisation.  They will use a combination of formal and informal power depending on their natural styles, their influencing capability and the styles and approaches of the people around them.  Our work with global clients in the Pharma industry and elsewhere has shown this in practice.  Through an awareness of strengths, preferred styles and drivers we have worked with leaders to develop strategies that work effectively at both the local and the global level.



In this article, we have explored the power relationship within different business situations.  It is not enough to just focus on formal power where the leader has control over the resources and can make the ultimate decisions.  It is also important to reflect on situations where leaders do not have the immediate remit to make decisions and drive the agenda.

As organisations become more integrated across functions and geographies, it becomes increasingly important for managers and leaders to work across silos and to make the most of the matrix approach.  In these situations, leaders need to be more aware of the subtle influencing skills and the power relationship between themselves and the people that they seek to influence.

Collaboration and a focus on accountability will support cross silo working and if this is coupled with an appreciation of the other person’s style and needs, then the leader can more readily shape the agenda and achieve decisions and outcomes that enable the organisation to grow and to succeed.  As Ken Blanchard says: “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority”.  Make the most of your influence and informal power to drive the vision for your thriving organisation.



1.     World Economic Forum, Davos, January 2017 (www.weforum.org)
2.     “A Rhetorical Model of Institutional Decision Making: The Role of Rhetoric in the Formation and Change of Legitimacy Judgments” by Rolf L. Hoefer, INSEAD and Sandy E. Green, California State University Northridge (January 2016)


Download the New OE Cam journal ‘Power & Influence‘.