We know the definition of leadership to be something like this: the ability to guide others towards a common, shared vision.  In effect, leadership is about one word:  influence. Have it, and you can lead.  The question is what flavor of influence are you using to generate this common, shared vision?

What Flavor of Influence Are you Pushing?
I’d like to say that there are really two flavors of influence.  Like saying that you can only select from vanilla or chocolate ice cream.  Unfortunately, I can’t thanks to Robert Cialdini, Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University.

In a 1984 Amazon #1 best selling book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, Cialdini gives us six flavors of influence to choose from – a veritable smorgasbord of influence types.

As with any aspect of leadership, no one type of influence is a default and no one type of influence is guaranteed to work in every situation.  The flavor of influence you use will be dependent on your followers, the situation and – yes – your personal way of delivering said influence.

The six types of influence according to Cialdini include:

1. Reciprocity.  When we employ reciprocity we engage the human need to return favors.  Call it DNA programming, but we are hardwired to feel the need to pay back debts and treat others as they treat us.  In a reciprocal influence situation, we make another person feel obliged to return a favor.  For example, a team mate helps us meet a tight project timeline and we then feel obliged to return the favor to her.  In fact, it leaves a burning hole in our mind until we repay the favor.

As a leader, let your team know that just because you ask for assistance or you provide one of them assistance it doesn’t indenture either of you payback that support.  One team, one fight.

2. Commitment (and Consistency).  Cialdini says that, believe it or not, we have an ingrained need to be consistent. For this reason, once we’ve committed to something, we’re then more inclined to go through with it.

For engineers this situation needs to be amplified since we’re even more prone to pursuing stated objectives like a dog after a bone.  Example: you are more inclined to support a teammates project proposal if you’ve previously expressed even a passing interest in it when first mentioned to you.

The key lesson for leaders is the importance of keeping an objective mind on initiatives, requests, and other items of interest where you may have previously stated an opinion.

3. Social Proof.  This influence flavor relies on people’s sense of “safety in numbers.”

For example, how do you feel when you’re the first person to walk out of the firm at the end of the day?  Uncomfortable that the senior partner and your colleagues are still in their offices?  Think you’re missing out?  In this situation, we’re assuming that if everyone else is staying late, maybe they’re doing so to curry favor, get ahead or position themselves for a promotion or key project.

We’re particularly vulnerable to this flavor of influence when we’re not confident in our actions and we’re even more likely to be influenced by this situation when our peers are involved.

The leaders take-away?  Know that your team’s members can be swayed by the actions of those around them and by your actions.  Have to stay in the office late?  Then walk around your work area and dismiss people so they don’t stay until you leave.  Announce end-of-day hours.  Yes, there are times when staying late is necessary, but if your team is sticking around just to curry favor you’re abusing your positional power.

4. Liking.  Cialdini’s studies show that we’re more likely to be influenced by people we like. We might like someone because they’re friendly or perhaps they’re similar to us.  Or maybe, in the case of a leader, we trust them.

People are more likely to follow people like themselves and people that they know and respect.  In this situation, as a leader you want to ensure that your team get’s a chance to know the real you, not the façade you break out each time you step into the office.

5. Authority.  We’re most familiar with authority influence – this is positional influence.  The sense of duty or obligation we feel to people in positions of authority. Why do you think advertisers of toothpaste or medicinal products use doctors to front their campaigns?  Or why do you do what your team leader asks?

Job titles, uniforms, and even accessories like cars or gadgets can lend an air of authority, persuading us accept or do what the other person says.

As a leader, be aware that what you say others will do.  Or at least take to heart.  They’ll also watch you like you’re a fish in a fishbowl.  The leader is never alone, regardless how lonely she might feel.  For there are always eyes watching.

6. Scarcity.  This principle of influence holds that things are more attractive when there’s limited availability or we stand to lose the opportunity to acquire them on favorable terms.

This is why we feel inclined to act on special one-time sales, only to see the same sale repeated month-after-month.

Leadership implications? Ensure you don’t artificially create scarcity situations through favoritism to individuals on your team or for limited opportunities, like professional training, that might arise.

These flavors of influence are powerful and as a leader, need to be wielded gently.  Often times, we unleash them without even knowing were creating scarcity here or asserting our authority there.


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