Coaches and change agents use many types of influence to help teams and organizations perform better as they lead. Influence can be applied through a number of highly nuanced approaches. And like many activities, when you find success with one it is easy to fall into a trap of thinking that that approach will always work. While sports analogies are often overdone, I will add one more to the pile before swearing them off (for this essay at least). The Super Bowl, the pinnacle of US Football, was recently played and featured a come from behind victory. The New England Patriots won the game despite having many of their top receivers sidelined due to injury. If the Patriots had only one approach to the game based on that set of receivers they would have been blown out. A good coach will be able to leverage different forms of influence based on the context they find themselves face or be able to recognize when dangerous forms of influence are being used. Recently I ran across a list of 7 approaches to influencing teams or organizations. Some of these approaches can be useful for coaches and some are harmful. The 7 forms of influence, some good and some bad, include:
- Eminence-based influence – Seniority and experience add gravity to the words and suggestions made by a coach that relies on eminence-based influence. In the late 1990’s I had an interviewer suggest that my prematurely graying hair added a degree of eminence that I could leverage in consulting (I did not take that job).
- Eloquence-based influence – Sartorial elegance and verbal eloquence are powerful tools for influencing the behavior of a team or organization. Polished style and stirring oratory is can be used to champion or support a cause. Eloquence is often very useful when sharing and shaping a vision for transformation, but somewhat less useful at the team level unless it conforms to the team’s culture.
- Evidence-based influence – Data combined coupled with quantitative and other feedback approaches can provide valuable feedback for a team to evaluate their approach and behavior. In transformations and team-level coaching, evidence often is used in combination with other forms of influence.
- Vehemence-based influence – Brow-beating and bullying (intimidation) is a method of influence often practiced by poor or untrained coaches. The form of influence seldom has a lasting impact and causes passive aggressive behavior in the short run and a backlash when bully leaves or loses power.
- Providence-based influence – Expecting Karma or some form of external intervention to change the trajectory of the team is a common approach for coaches that are out of their depth (whether based on skill, training or experience is not material). A coach needs to avoid assuming that an outside force will intervene to change the direction of the team or organization.
- Fear-based influence – From time immemorial fear has been used as a tool to influence behavior. Often fear is generated by a lack of knowledge of the future because of risk or an impending event. Mergers or similar evens often generate fear that some leaders harness to guide behavior. In times of great peril, fear can be a powerful and valuable motivator; however, most of the time it will generate severe negative side effects. Use the fear or threats at your own great peril.
- Confidence-based influence – Confidence-based influence is based on trust and the perception that the team or organizations can rely on the advice and leadership being offered. This type of influence is similar to eminence-based influence (and perhaps supported by evidence). The downside of confidence-based influence is that if the influencer leaves, often so does his or her influence. Use this form of influence when needed, but make sure it is not focused on a single person.
Influence is key to leadership and change. There are lots of ways to generate influence some are better than others. Use multiple types of influence, but stay away from fear, bullying and don’t start a cult of personality. Influence used correctly is the grease that gets things done, but when used incorrectly leads to failure.