Updated: Nov 9, 2020
Ralph Waldo Emerson and his son were working on their farm, trying to coerce a young calf into the barn. They pushed and pulled, but the calf never budged. Frustrated they would never succeed at accomplishing their task, they nearly gave up. Just then, the housemaid came along and offered her help. After gently placing her finger in the calf’s mouth, she slowly led the youngling into the barn letting him suck on her finger the whole way.
As this short story from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People illustrates, not knowing how to influence others can lead to frustration and lost time. As a global leader, with numerous employees to manage and various clients and suppliers to negotiate with, acquiring this skill will be particularly valuable. Below are some tips to help cultivate the ability to influence.
Make It Mutual
In Emerson’s story, the housemaid was successful because she understood what the calf wanted and enjoyed – the familiar feeling of nourishment and motherly comfort. In contrast, Emerson and his son were focused merely on what they wanted – the calf to leave the pasture and enter the barn. Because being influential is focused on getting someone else to make your desired decision, leaders frequently forget about the needs and wants of those they are trying to persuade.
Forming trusting relationships and becoming involved in the lives of others can help leaders understand the needs and wants of those around them. Using this knowledge, they can then make the decision appeal to the individual’s situation and produce a mutually beneficial result. This skill is particularly valuable in a global setting, where the traditions, cultures, and desires of others aren’t always easily discerned. Thus, leaders who can learn to focus not just on their personal outcome, but on helping meet other’s needs and wants, will be more influential.
Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton changed the face of physics, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, and more. Their influence continues to be broad and enduring. Years after their deaths, their names are broadly known, their faces are used on t-shirts and billboards, and their theories and laws are widely praised. Although their influence may not appear as direct and timely as many business leaders need, the concept is still the same; when someone is revered as knowledgeable in a certain area, others turn to them for direction and guidance.
As a business leader, others will support ideas and go along with decisions more readily when they are confident that they are following someone who has exceptional skills and expertise. For those working in a global environment, this may involve studying different cultures, customs, languages, and business processes. Then, as others witness the outcomes of the knowledge gained, they will more readily accept and follow the desired decisions.
Be Assertive, Not Aggressive
Martin Luther King Jr. day is one of a select few U.S. federal holidays named after an individual; the others being Jesus Christ, Christopher Columbus, and Presidents Washington and Lincoln. Early in his life, King recognized a nation in need of change. He wrote letters, directed peaceful marches, and used several other nonviolent campaigns to win the hearts of many around the globe. Despite being arrested and assaulted countless times, King maintained an assertive, yet non-aggressive, approach. Because of his influence, he was recognized as “Man of the Year” by Time Magazine in 1963, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and changed the world forever.
Like King, global leaders must learn to be assertive when attempting to influence others. Without a clear purpose, or “dream”, and passion to back it up, little progress will be made. However, when individuals feel forced or coerced, they often retract and object, feeling a need to defend themselves. So be assertive, but not aggressive.
In early 2020, Bill Gates announced the he would leave his positions on both Microsoft’s and Berkshire Hathaway’s boards in order to spend more time on his philanthropic endeavors. Although he said Microsoft will always be an integral part of his life, he feels that his time is better spent focused on global health, education, and climate change. In describing Gates, Satya Nadella said, “Bill founded our company… with a passion to solve society’s most pressing challenges… and the world [is] better for it”.
Gates’ passion and drive to serve and give back are what frequently put him at the top of the world’s most admired list. Similarly, global leaders who strive to be charitable and make efforts to give back will find themselves more highly revered and influential in their social spheres.
Influence, when used correctly, will save time and help avoid unnecessary frustration. Although some individuals appear to be naturally influential, everyone can benefit from learning how to increase their influence. As observed from many of the world’s most influential individuals, building relationships, increasing expertise, learning to be peaceful and assertive, and finding opportunities to serve and give back are simple and important ways to build rapport and get tasks done.
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