Leadership & the Art of Ethical Persuasion

It sounds like a Zen riddle: “Does a leader make a sound if there are no followers there to hear?”

Followership is the most critical part of leadership—and your ability to influence is the most critical part of gaining followers. But aside from Dale Carnegie, who talks about influence and persuasion, especially in leadership circles?

Well, Brian Ahearn, that’s who. Brian is today’s podcast guest, and the Chief Influence Officer at his firm: Influence PEOPLE. Which is a pretty strong hint that he’ll be talking about influence—ethical influence—and how leaders can use that for team success.

Do you like the people on your team?

Far too many executives believe the old myth that positions or titles make them leaders. In reality, the ability to influence people is a core component of a true leader, regardless of rank. And liking those people greatly powers your influence.

Here’s how Brian lays out the basics.

1. Practice the Principle of Liking

People are more likely to respond positively to those they like and hold in high regard. That part is just plain common sense. But here’s the twist when it comes to influence: that positive response amplifies when people feel that you like them. Why? Because that implies you also care about them, so they’re confident you put their concerns into the equations for your decisions. Instead of the usual short-lived, shallow transactional relationships most bosses have with their workers, you’ve created a lasting, meaningful connection with real value. As Brian sums it up, your instructions filter through a lens of “Good for me, good for you: good to go!”

2. Ground Relationships in Trust

Your team needs to trust that you’ll follow through on that care. It’s a simple case of your actions speaking louder than your words, so be sure to:

  • Consistently fulfill promises (and explain when you can’t)
  • Extend grace and understanding when a coworker makes mistakes (it’s important to forgive yourself for mistakes, too)
  • Sacrifice your personal interests for the good of the team, and
  • Address issues openly rather than let tension silently build.

In building solid relationships on a foundation of trust, you’re also providing your team with a solid sense of psychological safety—which in itself boosts innovation and engagement.

3. Practice Pre-suasion

Set the stage; that’s what this point boils down to, yet it’s remarkable how many leaders don’t prepare their teams for big news, major projects, and the like. Pre-suasion, then, simply means you’re laying some groundwork before you try to persuade or influence the team. Taking them by surprise inevitably kills morale and creates resistance to the new initiative! So, prepare your team mentally, emotionally, and even physically before launching into something new. (Brian exercised pre-suasion before asking his wife to marry him; enjoy the romantic details in his TEDx talk at https://bit.ly/InfluenceAndLeaders-TEDx).

4. Deploy Influence Ethically

Influencing unethically is flat-out manipulation—which destroys any sense of trust or care you’ve worked so hard to foster. Brian suggests three standards that ensure you’re holding to an ethical bar:

  • Truthfulness
  • Using persuasion—and pre-suasion—naturally
  • Creating mutual benefit

In other words, as an ethical influencer, you’re transparent and authentic, you avoid manipulation, and you ensure your requests of the team provide value for everyone involved.

We all try to influence others. It starts the moment we’re born with cries to bring us the food and shelter we need as infants to survive, and it continues from there: it’s a womb-to-tomb process. You can tame and refine that natural need to influence: performed ethically, effective persuasion and influence ultimately enable leaders to unlock the full potential of their teams. They build relationships where conflict no longer divides but drives innovation!


This article was adapted by Dan Mushalko from our podcast episode How Influence Leads to Great Leadership.

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