Four Ways Effective Leaders Gain the Commitment of Others

Rick Lepsinger

Over the last 25 years our research on leader effectiveness has focused on trying to answer three key questions. The first is what are the tactics and behaviors that leaders use to gain the support and the commitment of others? The second question is among these tactics which ones are most likely to achieve commitment? And the third question is which of the tactics are most closely associated with leader effectiveness? And today I’d like to talk a little bit about the four tactics that have the strongest relationship to a leader’s overall effectiveness and those four tactics are rational persuasion, collaboration, inspirational appeal and consultation.

Let’s take a look at each one in a little bit more detail. Rational persuasion is using facts and logic to support your proposal or your idea. Rational persuasion is the most frequently used tactic. It’s the one that the majority of managers use most of the time and it’s also perceived to be the most effective tactic. However, on occasion you may actually find that your rational argument is not as effective, not as powerful, doesn’t get the result that you’re actually looking for and there are two key conditions that need to be in place in order for rational persuasion to be effective.

The first one is you need to be seen as a credible resource. People need to see you as having expertise and experience in the area that you’re talking about.

In addition to that, it’s critical that goals are aligned because no matter how good your argument is, no matter how sound your reasoning is, if in fact it is not directed toward a shared goal it doesn’t really matter how good the argument is because you’re moving in a different direction. You’ve put together a persuasive argument to achieve this outcome and they are actually looking to move in a different direction.

So what do you do? What are your options when the situation does not support the use of rational persuasion? Well, what some people do is they just keep driving on that tactic. They figure they’ll just say it a little bit louder. Maybe the person didn’t hear them very well or just be a little bit more forceful with it but there are other options.

One of those options is inspirational appeal and if you’re actually good at rational persuasion you can be very good at inspirational appeal. Inspirational appeal is about focusing on values and beliefs. So rather than directing your argument to the head around facts and logic, you’re really focused somewhere around here on values and beliefs overall.

Now in general, inspirational appeal has a lower frequency of use. In the general population it doesn’t get used that frequently and one of the reasons I believe is that some people associate inspirational appeal with charisma, with high energy, and I think energy and charisma help with inspirational appeal but that’s not really what it’s all about. It’s really about connecting your proposal and helping people understand how it’s aligned with their value or will help them achieve their value.

In addition to that, many people believe that values tend to be softer, more amorphous, more difficult to get your arms around or measure but again, I would disagree with that. I think values can actually be very concrete. If you think about values related to customer service or quality or safety, for an example, those are very concrete because they drive leader behavior and they also drive organizational policy and procedure.

So inspirational appeal is actually a very nice alternative when goals are not aligned or in fact you might not be seen as a credible resource. You can use the same type of approach but you’re directing your argument toward a different thing — values instead of logic. And when we look at the group of most effective leaders, the use of inspirational appeal increases dramatically among the population of most effective leaders.

The third tactic is collaboration, and collaboration is about reducing the difficulty of someone complying. What you’re doing here is providing additional resources or assistance that would make it easier for the person to comply with your request or with your proposal.

And the fourth area is consultation. Consultation is the participatory approach. You’re involving people and engaging them in the process of thinking through and shaping what the final outcome would actually be. This not only increases their ownership of the final result but could likely increase the quality of that outcome as well.

So what are some of the best practices and recommendations that come out of this? One is increase the use of influence to build coalitions and support for ideas and initiatives. It may not be too surprising to find that the most effective leaders actually try to influence more frequently than less effective leaders. They actually put energy and time toward trying to gain support and build commitment for their ideas.

The second recommendation is to develop competence in all four tactics. Even though I described each tactic individually, they really work most effectively in a bundle or in a group and frequently people would be using these tactics in some kind of a combination. And you’re also trying not to be over-reliant on any one tactic because the tactics can in fact be situationally determined and certain conditions support the use of each of those tactics which takes me to the last recommendation.

Appeal to values and emotions should be part of every leader’s tool kit. It’s a highly under-utilized tactic but it is a differentiator and a component of effective leadership, and to make that part of it, to not over-rely on logic and facts and to use this notion of values and beliefs and emotions to gain support, to gain commitment is the hallmark of an effective leader.

Rick Lepsinger is President of OnPoint Consulting and co-author of Flexible Leadership and Virtual Team Success . Copyright 2013, author retains ownership. All Rights Reserved.

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