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Golden Oldies: Discriminating Leadership and Influence, Persuasion and Manipulation

Monday, May 8th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of some of the best posts during that time.

This week is a two-fer, the first post was written in 2009, while the second is from 2015. Both contain links to other relevant posts. And both address a pet peeve of mine involving words — what else — their use, misuse and baggage.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Discriminating Leadership

The ability to influence is not the sign of a leader; nor are visions, forceful opinions, board seats, titles or popularity. After all, if a high media profile was a sign of leadership then Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are leaders.

Millions of people are influenced and even inspired by writers and actors, but does that make them leaders? Angelina Jolie is considered a leader for her tireless charitable efforts as opposed to her screen credits; Rush Limbaugh may influence thousands, but I’ve never heard him called a leader.

It is the singular accomplishments; the unique actions that deserve the term, not the position you hold or just doing your job.

I knew a manager who thought his major accomplishment was managing his 100 person organization, but that wasn’t an accomplishment—that was his job. The accomplishment, and what qualified him as a leader, was doing it for four years with 3% turnover and every project finished on time and in budget.

Jim Stroup over at Managing Leadership (no longer available) wrote, “There is a strong and general instinct to ascribe positive values to what we have determined to be examples of leadership. In a world that so often confuses forcefulness with leadership, this can be – and frequently is, in fact, revealed to be – an exceedingly dangerous habit… There is a particularly frustrating – and increasing – tendency to characterize any practice or trait deemed “good” as “leadership.” When an executive exhibits behavior that is highly valued – or even expresses a perfectly ordinary one especially well – he or she is declared to be a “leader,” or to have demonstrated “leadership.”

Dozens of corporate chieftains who were held up for years as exemplifying visionary leadership now stand in line for bailout money—or dinner in jail.

There is no way to stop the word being used and abused, but you have the option to hear it for what it really is—a word with no baggage, no assumed meaning.

A word on which you focus your critical thinking instead of accepting it blindly, assuming that all its traits are positive or rejecting it based on nothing more than ideology.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aafromaa/4476152633Influence, Persuasion and Manipulation

Last week I had lunch with four managers, “Larry,” “Mandy,” “Paul” and “Ashish.” At one point the conversation turned to how the ability to influence people affected the ability to lead.

It was a lively conversation, but I stayed on the sidelines; noticing my silence, Ashish asked me what I thought.

Instead of responding I asked all of them what the difference was between influence, persuasion and manipulation.

This provoked another active discussion, with the upshot that while it was acceptable to influence people it was wrong to manipulate them. This time it was Mandy who asked what I thought.

I responded that I didn’t see a lot of difference between the three.

That shocked them all, but really upset Larry.

So I explained my thinking, which formed the basis of this post in 2011.

Influence = Manipulation

Every conversation about leadership talks about ‘influence’ and how to increase yours.

In a post at Forbes, Howard Scharlatt defines influence this way,

Influence is, simply put, the power and ability to personally affect others’ actions, decisions, opinions or thinking. At one level, it is about compliance, about getting someone to go along with what you want them to do.

He goes on to describe three kinds of influencing tactics: logical, emotional and cooperative, or influencing with head, heart and hands and talks about ‘personal influence’ and its importance in persuading people when authority is lacking.

A couple of years ago I wrote The Power of Words and said, “Personally, other than socially acceptable definitions, I don’t see a lot of difference between influence and manipulation,” and I still don’t.

I realize most people consider manipulation negative and influence positive, but they are just words.

I often hear that leaders are good people, while manipulators are bad people. But as I pointed out in another post,

leaders are not by definition “good;”

they aren’t always positive role models; and

one person’s “good” leader is another person’s demon.

Everyone believes they use their influence in a positive way, but when you persuade people to do [whatever] who are you to say that both the short and long-term outcome is positive for them?

Influence, persuasion, manipulation; call it what you will, just remember that it is power and be cautious when you wield it.

In spite of the heated disagreement I saw no reason to change my thinking.

I was surprised at the end of the discussion when even Larry commented that while it made sense that the words didn’t actually signal intent he still didn’t like it and wasn’t about to use them interchangeably, which made sense to me, because language carries the meaning (and the baggage) of the time and place in which it’s used.

Image credit: Anne Adrian

Discriminating Leadership

Friday, February 27th, 2009

The ability to influence is not the sign of a leader; nor are visions, forceful opinions, board seats, titles or popularity. After all, if a high media profile was a sign of leadership then Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are leaders.

Millions of people are influenced and even inspired by writers and actors, but does that make them leaders? Angelina Jolie is considered a leader for her tireless charitable efforts as opposed to her screen credits; Rush Limbaugh may influence thousands, but I’ve never heard him called a leader.

It is the singular accomplishments; the unique actions that deserve the term, not the position you hold or just doing your job.

I knew a manager who thought his major accomplishment was managing his 100 person organization, but that wasn’t an accomplishment—that was his job. The accomplishment, and what qualified him as a leader, was doing it for four years with 3% turnover and every project finished on time and in budget.

Jim Stroup over at Managing Leadership wrote, “There is a strong and general instinct to ascribe positive values to what we have determined to be examples of leadership. In a world that so often confuses forcefulness with leadership, this can be – and frequently is, in fact, revealed to be – an exceedingly dangerous habit… There is a particularly frustrating – and increasing – tendency to characterize any practice or trait deemed “good” as “leadership.” When an executive exhibits behavior that is highly valued – or even expresses a perfectly ordinary one especially well – he or she is declared to be a “leader,” or to have demonstrated “leadership.”

Dozens of corporate chieftains who were held up for years as exemplifying visionary leadership now stand in line for bailout money—or dinner in jail.

There is no way to stop the word being used and abused, but you have the option to hear it for what it really is—a word with no baggage, no assumed meaning.

A word on which you focus your critical thinking instead of accepting it blindly, assuming that all its traits are positive or rejecting it based on nothing more than ideology.

Your comments—priceless

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Image credit: flickr

Leading with invective

Friday, July 4th, 2008