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You can’t just tell me! Persuasion as a Leadership Skill


If you're relying on command and control to lead, then it's very likely that the vast majority of evidence and opinion would say you're making a big mistake. Even the most hierarchical organisations are opening their doors to influential and persuasive leadership. If your leadership style is to engage and take your team on the journey, this is a skill you absolutely need.

Leading Through Influence: The Power of Persuasive Leadership

Power and authority in the workplace has never been more liberal and relaxed.  The ability to influence others has emerged as a crucial leadership skill. No longer can leaders rely solely on hierarchical power to get things done. Instead, persuasive leadership, which involves inspiring, motivating, and influencing people to achieve a shared goal, is becoming increasingly critical. But how do leaders wield influence effectively? And how can they become more persuasive leaders?

The Concept of Persuasive Leadership

Persuasive leadership goes beyond mere manipulation or coercion. It involves creating an environment where people feel motivated to contribute to the leader’s vision. This type of leadership demands emotional intelligence, clear communication, and the ability to inspire trust.

Robert Cialdini, a renowned psychologist and author of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” outlined six principles of persuasion: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. Leaders who understand these principles and how to apply them can become more persuasive and influential in their interactions.

Case Study: Airbnb

Airbnb’s co-founder, Brian Chesky, exemplifies persuasive leadership. During the company’s early days, Airbnb was not an easy sell. Many were sceptical about the idea of renting out their homes to strangers. However, Chesky and his team were able to persuade hosts and guests to buy into their vision of a “world where anyone can belong anywhere.”

They did this by consistently communicating the benefits of their service and building a community around their brand. They prioritised customer experience, leading to positive reviews that provided social proof for their service’s value. Chesky himself is known for his charisma and ability to connect with people, which has played a significant role in Airbnb’s success.

Counter-arguments and Critical Thinking

While persuasive leadership is a valuable skill, it is essential to note that it can be misused. Leaders must ensure that their influence is wielded ethically and transparently. Persuasion should not be about manipulating others but about inspiring them to see and work towards a shared vision. It’s also vital for leaders to remain open to being persuaded by their teams. Leadership is not a one-way street, and the most successful leaders are those who can listen and adapt their ideas based on feedback.

Questions to ponder

  • Are you leveraging the principles of persuasion in your leadership style?
  • How can you use persuasive leadership to foster a more engaged and motivated team?
  • In what ways can you improve your ability to communicate your vision persuasively?
  • Practical Steps towards Persuasive Leadership

Approaches to consider

  • Understand Your Team: Recognise the needs, motivations, and concerns of your team. This understanding will allow you to communicate in a way that resonates with them and increases your persuasiveness.
  • Communicate Clearly and Effectively: Be transparent about your goals and vision. Use compelling narratives to inspire your team.
  • Leverage the Power of Reciprocity: Show appreciation for your team’s efforts. This can inspire them to contribute more effectively to your shared goals.
  • Demonstrate Authenticity: Be genuine in your interactions with your team. Authenticity builds trust, making your team more likely to follow your lead.

Key Takeaways

Persuasive leadership is about more than getting others to do what you want. It’s about inspiring and motivating your team to work towards a shared vision. By understanding the principles of persuasion, communicating effectively, and leading with authenticity, leaders can more effectively influence their teams and drive organisational success.

Want more?  I’d recommend …

Book: “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini

Article: “The Necessary Art of Persuasion” by Jay A. Conger, Harvard Business Review

Video: TEDx Talk “The Science of Persuasion” by Noah Goldstein

Podcast: “You’re Not So Smart: The Science of Persuasion”


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