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Leadership: Why Persuasion is Better than Power

“The more you tighten your grip, Lord Vader, the more star systems will slip through your fingers” –Princess Leia

There are two prominent influence methods employed by business leaders today, and they are dramatically different from one another. Power—the first method—is an option available to you if you have a lot of people reporting to you, or an important title at your company. But unless you are high up in your company, power tactics rarely work. In fact, using power plays will often have the opposite effect on those you work with. Many times, it will create distrust and incite anger from your co-workers. For example, a classic power tactic used in business when one isn’t getting what they want from someone is to go over that person’s head and speak to his or her boss. The assumption with this strategy is that the boss will then compel the subordinate to do what you’ve asked. Even if you get what you want, you have sabotaged your credibility with your co-worker. Good luck getting that person to trust you in the future.

Even senior executives, who carry plenty of weight in big companies by virtue of their titles, will get only so far by using them. They may get what they want in the short term, but employees are obeying not out of a genuine motivation, but for self-preservation. And they are not happy about it. Who wants to work in an environment where they feel forced to do things they don’t want to do?

Employees without a powerful title, but who seek to compel with power, often use other people’s titles to get things done—also known as “name-dropping.” “John (you know, the VICE PRESIDENT!), asked me to get this done,” or “Your boss asked me to tell you…” are common statements used with this tactic. While you may get some short-term things done this way, name-dropping will erode trust over the long term.

There is second, more effective method to get people to help you: persuasion. This method differs from power in nearly everything way. Looks at the stark contrast:

Granted, power is easier to use than persuasion. It requires less patience. It may allow you to get more done in the short term. But here is the great irony of using power in big companies: the more you use it, the less of it you have. Thus, choose carefully when to use your power cards. The deck is not infinitely stacked.

Persuasion, on the other hand, can be tough. You may not get what you want every time. To persuade, you must work within the parameters of the person’s ability to reason and to choose. This can often test your patience and will-power, but will ultimately create stronger results, built better business relationships and a stronger reputation for you as a leader.

If you want to be impotent at work, use power tactics. If you want to be powerful, try persuasion.


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