As the military model of leadership falls into disrepute, business leaders can no longer rely on being able to control their people.
They have to be able to influence them to embrace a common vision for the company, division or department. They need to be able to get people to change their behaviour in a positive way so that everyone works together to achieve agreed business goals.
The big question leaders are faced with is: what is the most effective, or powerful, way to affect people’s behaviour? Do you think it’s better to have control over people or do you think it’s better to have influence in their lives?
The easiest option is control. Let’s say you’ve been put in a position of authority, you’ve been given a job to do and stretch targets to meet, and you’re going to see that those working for you do their jobs. So, like many managers (and parents), you opt to control the people under you. Why? Because you can!
And everything works well. At first. People do what they’re told. You’re very happy. And proud of yourself. You pat yourself on the back and tell your friends and family on social occasions that things are going well at work. Everybody is performing to your expectations and targets are being met. Your friends and family – and your boss or investors – are impressed.
But after a few months, things start slipping. You find yourself involved in disciplinary hearings and having to address poor performance problems. You really can’t understand what’s gone wrong. What changed? Everything was working so well and you’re such a good leader. You had everything under control. Or so you thought ...
When all is said and done, you actually shouldn’t want to control people. The problem with control is that, although it’s easy to achieve in the short term, it’s not sustainable and viable in the long term – whether you’re working with colleagues in the workplace or children in your home.
When you go for control over people, you’ve got to be around to control them. Whether it’s staff at work or at remote locations or children at home, they’re only under control when they’re under your control – when you’re around to control them. When you’re not around, however – and you can’t be around all the time – they’re completely out of control. They do their own thing and rebel against you and what you stand for. People rebel against control because when you try to control them they feel they have been disempowered.
The thing you want in people’s lives, therefore, is influence. That’s because when you have influenced people, your influence stays with them whether you’re there or not. And that influence is also a lot more long lasting. Think about someone who influenced your life at some or other time. It may have been decades ago, but I’m willing to bet that you’ll be the first to acknowledge that their influence has stayed with you!
How does one gain influence in a person’s life? There’s no quick fix. The first point to understand is that verbal persuasion has been proved to be the LEAST effective means of influencing anyone – adults or children. So don’t try lecturing, preaching or arguing. You’re wasting your time. You’re not going to influence anyone that way. All they will be doing while you’re lecturing or preaching at them is think of ways to blow your arguments out of the water. They’re not even listening to what you’re saying!
If you want to get a message across, you’ve got to walk the talk and live out your message. That’s not so easy. That’s why very few people opt for this.
Another critical factor regarding influence is relationship. The level of influence you have in anyone’s life is determined by the quality of the relationship you have with them. No relationship – no influence. So if you want to influence those around you, start building, or rebuilding, your relationship with them.
There are many more factors to take into account regarding influence. Start asking yourself some tough questions about the people for whom you’re responsible. Determine whether you are controlling or influencing them. If you’re honest enough to admit that you’re actually a control freak (if that is indeed the case), you CAN make the change. No-one else can do it for you.
So what’s it going to be?
Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag, and a professional speaker. He assists executives to prevent, reverse and delay ageing, and achieve self-mastery so that they can live and lead with greatness.