Define Potential Blog

The power to influence: what does it take?

08 October 2019

In the words of Barack Obama…“one voice can change a room”.  Indeed, to witness a dynamic leader win over a room, or a board room table of executives, to convert the unconvertible by weaving their magic, can be captivating. In the world of management and leadership, the ability to successfully influence, in all directions, both internally and externally, is paramount. So what does one need to consider to become the ultimate influencer and to get the decisions you need to advance your agenda? What is it that makes the process of influence and persuasion look so simple, so natural?

Morgan (2018) asserts that there are four aspects of  influence  and persuasion: positional power; emotion;  expertise and  non-verbal signals. He states that influence  is a measure of “how much skin participants have in the game” and to influence successfully, “you need to have an edge in at least one of the above and preferably more than one”.

Cialdini (2018) draws on research conducted over many years on interactions that lead people to concede, comply or change, and concludes that persuasion works by appealing to deeply rooted human drives and needs. He argues that persuasion is governed by six principles:


  • like those who like them (relationships are critical);
  • repay in kind (working collaboratively with others pays off);
  • follow the lead of similar others (champions or influencers can assist you);
  • align with their clear commitments (work to get verbal or written commitments, then leverage them);
  • defer to experts (bring in an expert to assist, or hit the books); and
  • want more of what they can have less of (things in short supply are more enticing).

Others such as Antonakis, J. et. al (2018) highlight the importance of ‘charisma’; whilst Duarte, N. (2018) speaks to the power of ‘empathy’.

In addition, I see both your ‘personal brand’ and the power in you ‘telling a good story’ as critical elements of influence. Your audience doesn’t always need more information and as Simmons, A. (2006) explains, “the magic of influence is less in what we say and more in how we say it and who we are.”

Consider your personal brand. Who are you representing when you walk into a room to influence one or a number of people? As described by Ashkenis, R. (2010) we are all able to create our own sense of distinctiveness, trust and confidence.  Ask yourself what you want to be known for — what differentiates you from everyone else and most of all, who are you representing and how should you be representing their brand? Establishing a sense of trust in your character and your competence is critical. Remember impressions are often formed in seconds.

Now, to the power of a good story. Have you tried tossing your Power Point slides away and telling a story that encapsulates the information, the future impact of your proposition and the players involved in a way that touches the hearts and minds of your audience? What do they want to know, what do they really care about and what future do they want to project in their own mind? Wrap this up in a good tale and you’re going to be way ahead. Simmons, A. (2006) suggests you will need six stories in your back pocket to assist you in your efforts to influence others. These include: stories of “who I am”; “why I am here”; “the vision”; “teaching”; “values-in-action”; and “I know what you are thinking”.

In my experience working around the world with governments, the private sector, international organisations, academics and non-government organisations, I’d agree with the various options outlined above. However, I’d add, that the ability to effectively persuade, or influence, comes out of the interplay of many different skills and experiences mixed into a powerful and fit for purpose concoction tailored to the situation, the point in time, the context, stakeholders and what indeed, is at stake. Depending on the purpose, the people, your relationship with the audience, the politics at play and many other factors that arise in complex situations, you will need to select the best approach – one that is fit for the purpose and is responsive to all of the dynamics at play. Critical to this is preparation:  your success will generally be directly related to the effectiveness of the assessment of the situation that you undertake before you engage with your stakeholders.

To help get you started on this, consider undertaking an assessment of the following:

  • What is the outcome you need? What’s at stake?
  • Who are the stakeholders involved? What is the outcome they need?
  • What are their agendas?
  • What interplays exist between those involved?
  • What are the politics of the situation?
  • Do I know my stuff? Where are my knowledge gaps? Do I need to gather further information?
  • What questions might I be asked? What response would you like to give?
  • What image do I wish to portray? Consider this in terms of your presentation, demeanour and communication.
  • What are my strengths and vulnerabilities?

Then, when you enter the room:

  • be focused and present;
  • play your part, you are there with a purpose;
  • lead with confidence and authority;
  • listen deeply; use questions effectively;
  • articulate your message clearly and firmly.

In an increasingly complex and interconnected world, leaders need to be able to make things happen through partnerships, collaboration, experimentation, and the all important art and science of influence.

Remember, regardless of your position in an organisation, your voice can be the one that
changes a room”.

Sonia BradleyPrincipal Associate – Define Potential, Director – Collaborate Consulting

Sonia Bradley is an internationally respected consultant, strategist and facilitator, with 25 years experience both within government and independent consulting across a range of sectors. Sonia’s particular expertise lies in facilitation of senior and cross sector forums, cultivating productive stakeholder relationships across public and private sectors, both within Australia and internationally. Sonia brings a deep understanding of the political, cultural and personal dynamics at play in high-level negotiations and is adept in working with groups to progress multi-faceted issues.


Morgan, N. HBR Emotional Intelligence Series: Influence and Persuasion. Harvard Business Review Press (2018)

Cialdini, R. HBR Emotional Intelligence Series: Influence and Persuasion. Harvard Business Review Press (2018)

Antonakis, A. et. al. HBR Emotional Intelligence Series: Influence and Persuasion. Harvard Business Review Press (2018)

Duarte, N. To Win People Over, Speak to Their Wants and Needs. HBR Emotional Intelligence Series: Influence and Persuasion. Harvard Business Review Press (2018)

An interview with Robert McKee by Fryer, B. HBR Emotional Intelligence Series: Influence and Persuasion. Harvard Business Review Press (2018)

Simmons, A. (2006). The story factor Inspiration, Influence and Persuasion through the art of storytelling. Notes by Tomlinson, G.

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