In surveys of executives, influence is usually cited as one of the most important skill sets for leaders. Leaders are encouraged to learn effective communication and influence skills and use them in a conscious and tactical way to achieve specific objectives. However, in some organizations, the open use of influence is seldom seen and rarely encouraged. Instead, leaders attempt to achieve results either through the direct use of power or through manipulation…

These days, I’m troubled by the way power and influence is understood. Polls and recent election results from several countries suggest that many people are attracted to the idea of a “strong leader” – i.e., an authoritarian. In fact, there are many kinds of power – positional power, referent power (derived from one’s closeness to a source of power), relationship power, information power, moral authority. and many other names for the “ability to cause change,” as an old teacher of mine defined it. Personal power is based on a set of resources, tangible or intangible, that one controls, including personal properties such as beauty, intelligence, celebrity, and charisma. It is responded to or respected by those who need or want something from the person in power. It can be used for good or evil; to save or to destroy. Authoritarianism in families, governments, or organizations means a concentration of power in the hands of the few with the absence of individual freedom to make important choices.

Reading today’s headlines, one might think that power and influence derive only from being feared. And indeed, military and police power, authoritarian rule, and the ability to hire and fire, for example, have in common the resource of being able to hurt, punish, or extract concessions in exchange for compliance with the wishes of the person or group in authority. This kind of power, however, is not influential. Minds are not changed. Actions are often taken under duress, and the results are frequently of poor quality. People at the receiving end of authoritarian power do what they think they must do to avoid reprisal.

Influence is about putting power to work…

By B. Kim Barnes

Most of our important business, professional, and personal relationships are ongoing. Relationships in which we communicate and influence one another develop a history. Any specific influence opportunity or event is affected by the past and helps shape the future of the influence relationship. In other words, every time you influence someone you are making it either easier or harder to influence him or her the next time.

…While we both focus on the topic of influence, we approach it from different backgrounds. This has led to many interesting conversations. We thought it might be useful to share some of them with you. We took several influence situations (borrowed with permission from Barnes & Conti’s Exercising Influence program material) and thought about how we might advise a client to approach them.

You need the support of a senior manager to sell your department on the need for a change in a key business process. This manager is not noted for risk-taking and usually prefers to have direct reports out front on changes. This time you need a strong and public commitment.