There is no power, there is only influence.
Power is perceived influence. Influence creates the illusion of power.
Cause and effect are easily confused.
When we see a leader who wields great influence over people and events, we perceive power, and we look for its source. When we look, we see that they hold titles and positions, that they oversee large budgets and teams, so we conclude that this is the cause of their power.
But it is only the effect of their ability to influence. First, they used their ability in small matters, until successful results attracted larger matters, and the larger means that accompany them.
Because of this mistake, we assume that if only we, too, had the prerogatives of ‘power’ – the budgets, the teams, the titles – then we, too, would be the puppet-master and command the outcome.
It doesn’t work that way.
I found out, because I tried. I tried and I tried. It back-fired enough times that I have finally begun to understand that despite my best efforts I never achieved power, not because it was hard to acquire, but because it does not exist.
Instead, I have begun to study and seek influence, and found it to be good soil that bears much fruit.
To grow in influence, realize that attempting to command other people is a waste of time. Because it is such a futile pursuit, it limits the scope of your influence to fewer people, and your control over them will require more energy to maintain than it is worth.
Think of it like a mugging. If you point a gun at someone, you can command them. But as soon as you move on, they will run. You may have temporary control, but from unwilling subjects that resent and resist your will.
Instead, embrace the way of the salesman. The salesman understands that there is a destination that both parties would benefit from reaching and that they need each other to get there. Because the customer is unaware of this opportunity, it is the salesman’s duty to make him aware, explain its merits and persuade the purchase.
Long after the salesman leaves, his influence remains. It remains as long as the customer is considering whether or not the proposed transaction is truly in her best interests. Once she convinces herself of it, then she will, of her own free will, perform many of the actions that the salesman would wish her to, had the salesman attempted to impose his will through the threat of force.
Sales requires influence. Influence requires trust, alignment of interests, and a plan. That’s why the most effective salesmen are also leaders. Because leaders do not command; they bring one or more people together around a plan to reach a destination shared in common.
Influence requires sales. The two are symbiotic, like Yin and Yang. To influence someone, you must sell, you must persuade them of three things: that you are trustworthy, that your interests are aligned with theirs, and that your plan is the best possible workable option.
There are many lessons in the art of sales, but one, by far, is the most important. It is a pre-condition. Without it, all the skills and techniques will feel manipulative. With it, all the skills and techniques will have their desired effect.
The lesson is that people are incredibly sensitive to how you feel towards them, so they are very hard to fool. If you do not respect them, or if you do not have their best interests at heart, or if you perceive them as an object to be won, rather than a person like yourself, with legitimate desires and needs and concerns, then they will feel it. If they feel that from you, your logic will not be trusted.
That is why great salespeople listen. Listening shows that you care about what motivates the other person and that you want to know what they think.
To sell with integrity, one must truly believe that the agreement being proposed is the right thing to do, not just for yourself, but for other person, such that, if you were them, you would agree to it too.
Once you master this lesson, then you will likely have also gained influence with the other person; for, to feel such a strong sense of conviction in the deal and empathy for the counter-party, you have probably had to convince yourself that this is indeed a workable plan that aligns interests on both sides.
Imagine, for example, the chief executive of a company. Like so many bosses, he may entertain the delusion that he has power, and may attempt to tell people what to do. When they don’t want to do what he wants them to do, he will boil with frustration. They will argue or reason with him. Instead of persuading them that a strategy is sound, he will want to say, “Don’t ask questions! I’m the boss, do as I say! I pay you to work for me!” As a management tactic, this is like pointing a gun at someone. If they don’t do what you want, you are threatening to fire (at) them. For the most talented people working at the company, this is an empty threat, because there are always other opportunities for them elsewhere, at other companies, and most of them probably pay better. So if the CEO insists on wielding his ‘power’ in this way, his best people will leave.
Conversely, if the CEO wants to get his way, he can also threaten his employees with promotions and bonuses and titles. This is an expensive and unsustainable tactic as well, and will not motivate people on a day-by-day basis.
A more effective approach begins with realizing that the people working at the company each have their private interests, and they work there, despite all the opportunity costs, because they see it as the best of all possible options currently available to them for achieving the things that they want to achieve in life, whatever they may be.
You, the leader, on the other hand, have a strategy and plan that you believe the company should follow in order to succeed, and you need them, the people on the team, to go where you want them to go, and do what you want them to do.
The best way to achieve results together is to influence each other. Encourage them to gain influence over you. Seek permission to gain influence over them. It is a profitable trade that begins with trust, then lets the best ideas win. If you truly believe that your plan is the right one for the team, then your arguments should be persuasive to them. They will feel your integrity and they will hear your logic. Similarly, if they truly believe their plan is the right one for the team, then their arguments may also sway you.
How much smarter will smart people become, how much harder working will hard working people become, if they are aligned with a common purpose?
In this way, a leader gathers the interests of many behind a journey to a shared destination. So that victory, when it comes, will be as much theirs as yours.