The Science of Persuasion and the Art of Appealing in the Leadership Context

The art of appealing in the leadership context

Influencing skills, or persuasive leadership styles, are used by leaders every day, and are critically important to career progression and team performance – for example, a prospective employee needs to be persuaded to join, or a customer needs to be influenced to act.

Persuasive leadership styles are commonly used to motivate employees to perform at their peak. As such, the ability to influence and motivate is a core skill for leaders.

In this article, we outline different styles of influence in the leadership context and examine why rational persuasion is so powerful.

Influential leadership rules the world

Research by Minnesota State University finds that “an effective leader influences followers in a desired manner to achieve desired goals”. The study concluded that leadership influences organizational culture, and therefore leadership style affects organizational performance.

Consequently, the world has moved on from one in which authoritarian leadership gets results. The stick has, thankfully, been replaced by the carrot – leadership influence in the digital age. Today, leaders use a variety of influencing tactics to persuade their employees to act in the way that conforms to the organization’s corporate values.

What is influential leadership?

Influence is an act of everyday life (think about how a waiter suggests a main course option, for example), though understanding how influence can be wielded brings its power into focus.

The art of influence is to inform and persuade others to make the best choice. Influencing leadership styles include:

A collaborative approach works because the leader offers assistance that helps people complete tasks – for example, by providing the resources that influence behavior and outcomes.

A democratic approach that includes everyone seeks input on how to do tasks, gaining commitment from those involved and encouraging team motivation.

Inspirational leaders are particularly adept at motivating people through continuous change, by sharing stories, understanding problems, and empowering teamwork. Inspirational appeal is generally used to influence behaviors that transform the performance of employee teams. Beneficial outcomes are linked to desired behaviors, with values and beliefs identified as key motivating factors. It is usual that such inspirational appeal is accompanied by the leader modeling the required behaviors and values, for them to be mirrored by others.

When a leader has built strong working relationships with peers and subordinates, his or her sphere of influence increases. Personal appeal is the art of using these relationships to exert influence. With common grounds, values and beliefs forged, personal appeal uses the strategy of give and take. It’s a strategy that is based on long-term, mutually beneficial decision-making.

While there are many strategies associated with persuasive leadership styles, perhaps the best to influence team behavior is rational persuasion.

What is rational persuasion?

Rational persuasion is the method of laying out facts to create a position which influences decisions and behaviors. You don’t need to use authoritative power or make threats. You don’t need to bribe.

Managers who employ rational persuasion emphasize the most positive benefits of an argument, with advantages given more prominence than disadvantages. This type of persuasive technique is commonly used in leading upward; that is, for example, to influence the actions of a management team or board of directors.

It may be that a manager needs to gain board-level commitment for a capital-intensive program. By using a rational persuasive strategy, the manager would hope to influence the decision of the board in his or her favor and gain acceptance for the initiative.

When employing rational persuasion, you help others see why your solution is the best and give them reasons to make it their solution.

Why does rational persuasion work to influence people?

The simplicity of rational persuasion is one of its major strengths. Influence is founded on factual evidence and logical argument. By positioning in this way, you provide the justification that others need to accept your solution.

To be effective, you must either be deemed as having greater expertise or better facts than those you wish to influence. You’ll produce evidence that supports your solution – for example, charts, graphs, statistics, etc.

Leading your people through a logical flow of information, supported by your evidence and expertise, you will arrive at an indisputable conclusion, such as:

  • “With the evidence that is available, the most logical solution is…”
  • “These facts lead us to the conclusion that there are three things we must do to move forward…”

The logic of authenticity in influential leadership

Logical arguments fall on deaf ears if you cannot answer ensuing questions. A misrepresented fact or complete falsehood will quickly be uncovered and destroy the whole argument. The engagement that you planned to build through a presentation of facts and progression to a logical conclusion will quickly evaporate and could evolve into active disengagement.

As well as a position of knowledge, key to using rational persuasion effectively is authenticity.  Effective influence is exerted only when the influencer is genuine, irrespective of the rationale provided. You must believe in your own rationale for it to appeal to others. This means communicating positively, with enthusiasm for your facts and solution. If you don’t show belief, you cannot expect others to follow.

Using rational persuasion to influence change readiness

People fear change. As McKinsey & Company found, “70% of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support”. When you remove the fear of change, you remove much of the resistance to it.

When implementing organizational change, you must put people before process. Rational persuasion is a highly-effective leadership technique to achieve this. By enveloping change in logic, you help others to develop a change mindset because they understand the rationale behind the change initiative.

Using rational persuasion to boost sales

Rational persuasion is also an effective technique for growing sales in the ambiguous environment. Developing a logical case is a strong influencer of buying decisions, and helps to create customer relations that last. Organizations move through eight steps in the buying decision process:

  1. Problem recognition
  2. Needs are described
  3. Product of service needs are specified
  4. Search for a supplier
  5. Proposals requested
  6. Selection of the vendor
  7. Order confirmation
  8. Review

The customer applies logic to every stage of this process. While successful salespeople build great customer relationships by building rapport, they influence sales by providing logical solutions and a rationale to buy.

Examples of rational persuasion

We see examples of rational persuasion everywhere. For example, when you visit a physician, they will explain the consequences of continuing with a poor diet and the benefits of altering your lifestyle. Teachers will explain the value of revision and homework, detailing the improved performance that it produces.

You may have used rational persuasion in a professional development or organizational context, when undertaking a SWOT analysis to analyze strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to develop a professional development plan or organizational strategy.

Make rational persuasion and influence about the team, not you

Good influencers are not concerned with taking credit for ideas and solutions. They are motivated by seeing their ideas put into action. An organization needs influencers to shape the behaviors they expect of their people, but the success of an organization depends upon the performance of the team.

The most effective managers and leaders influence their people to adopt the ideas and solutions that the manager or leader has created. When teams feel that those ideas and solutions are their own, the leader knows that their influence is complete. The manager who influences doesn’t need to accept credit for successful solutions directly – the team’s success reflects its leader’s effectiveness.

Collaboration, consultation, inspiration, and personal appeal all have their place in the armory of influential managers and leaders. However, these influence techniques work most effectively when combined with rational persuasion. The result is highly engaging leadership that serves to solidify support for logical solutions born from expertise, experience and knowledge.

Contact Forward Focus today to discuss our Management Development Series, including our Energy Leadership Program, which helps develop high-performing managers into inspirational leaders.

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