Lead by persuasion

DN Staff

October 4, 1999

4 Min Read
Lead by persuasion

We tend to think that power used to achieve business success is a negative, sort of a Machiavellian concept. We avoid talking about it.

Actually power can be used to either good or bad effect. The sources of power have not changed, only how we use it. They fall into two basic categories -- positional and personal.

Positional power is derived from factors such as formal authority, as defined by your position, and the relevance of your position to the organization's objectives. Is your position control in the key networks? Are you the first or last to hear about a problem? Is your position autonomous or do you have to check with others before making a decision? How visible is your position? The more often you are formally consulted, the more likely your position is visible.

Personal power is derived from factors such as your technical and managerial expertise, your accomplishments (especially the most recent), the effort you have expended, and your interpersonal skills.

Traditional leaders used command and control techniques undergirded by their positional power. They asserted these techniques to urge workers to accept and work towards the organization's goals. "It's my way or the highway," was all too common. A command and control approach not only slows down reaction time, it does not use valuable inputs from workers, and it increases costs without adding value.

The new era. Competition is forcing firms to respond faster with lower costs and higher quality and as a result, change the way they use power. In addition, employees no longer respond readily to the old command and control approach. Better educated and more highly skilled employees, often in scarce supply, frequently prefer the role of professional free agent rather than that of a cog in a large machine.

Leadership is shifting dramatically. Personal power leadership models are replacing the tradition of positional power. These new personal power models emphasize interpersonal skills, particularly the ability to persuade language persuasively.

Four reasons contribute to this shift. First, cross-functional teams generating information and decisions. They are fast, effective and operate as a group of peers. No single person has all the answers; to be effective in this setting, the outcome must be determined through a process of persuasions and not by edict.

Secondly, with each succeeding generation, the notion of obedience is being replaced by an urge for independent thinking, which is the antithesis of command and control. Independent thinking is central to the process of persuasion.

Third, the percentage of college graduates has more than doubled since 1960. These people respond better to persuasion than to edict. Fourth, the computer revolution has eroded the old command and control system. Computers give knowledge workers necessary information when they need it, so that data no longer travels up through the organization's traditional hierarchy before it is used.

Effective leadership can only be accomplished through persuasion, not through formal orders and edicts. People no longer ask, "What should I do?" Now they ask, "Why should I do it?" Answering this question effectively requires persuasion skills.

According to one CEO, "you have to give workers a reason to help you...Only then will they knock down doors."

Ask the Manager

Q Would you discuss the role of persuader in a little more detail?

A Most importantly, we must realize that persuasion is neither a form of manipulation, devious or something to avoid.

Persuasion can be a very effective learning and decision-making process through which the persuader leads others to a shared solution. The persuader assures that a particular idea, or decision, is explored from every reasonable perspective, while simultaneously achieving buy-in and support for the decision among all those with appropriate knowledge. A persuader needs good presentation and listening skills, as well as expertise and the ability to engender mutual trust.

It is crucial for the persuader to understand what the participants expect to discuss, as well as their concerns and their feelings about the issue at hand. Persuaders must never initially assume that the participants understand the advantage, necessity, or the urgency of any given proposal.

Persuasion often requires that people, including the persuader, change their position or perspective after full use of the organization's knowledge.

In the new network organization where everyone is an associate and team player, different players will assume the role of persuader. Depending on the situation, the persuader may be a functional or a project manager. In fact, anyone who has an idea that he/she believes would help the firm meet its goals or solve a problem can be a persuader.

Q How do data information, knowledge, and wisdom relate?

A In most contexts, data includes the basic facts (e.g., measurements and statistics). Information is developed through analysis and consideration of the data. Knowledge is developed through the use and application of information, and the process of learning.

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