In a Nutshell
You can't manage others if you can't or won't influence them. Influencing others is a fundamental managerial activity. Being effective at influencing others usually doesn't mean using your leverage to push them around ... but sometimes it does. The best managers actually use a range of influence tactics. When possible, they reason with their staff, peers, superiors, etc. to get the cooperation needed. However, in some circumstances, offering something in exchange for cooperation works best. Sometimes managers simply have to use pressure to get what they need, even though it can strain relationships. Effective managers are also able to resist inappropriate influence attempts from others.
In This Issue
Interpersonal Influence Strategies
You can't be an effective manager if you don't influence others. The definition of a manager in many textbooks is "someone who gets things done through and with others." That's clearly an oversimplification, but it demonstrates how essential influencing others is to getting managerial work accomplished.
Having said that, I should also point out that influencing isn't synonymous with effective management. As I mentioned in the September 12 LeaderLetter, building power bases shouldn't be a manager's primary focus, but managers have to have at least some form of power to be able to do their jobs. The same principle applies to influence (which is the exercise of power); influencing others doesn't prove that a manager is effective, but failure to influence others is often the cause of managerial ineffectiveness.
Choosing the right influence strategy is also a key to managing effectively. Reasoning with someone to get them to comply with your wishes has a lot of advantages as an influence strategy, but there are also circumstances in which it's more appropriate to use some form of exchange or pressure to get cooperation.
Reason. When feasible, the best way to influence others is reason. Managers who primarily use reason to influence others garner more respect and support in their organizations. Using reason to influence others simply means explaining to them why it's important or helpful for them to do what they're being asked to do and relying on their sense of responsibility and conscientiousness to comply. It's feasible to use reason when your relationship with the other party is one of mutual trust and respect, and there's sufficient time to explain your request. Reason also requires some degree of common values and priorities between the parties. If you request that someone do something because it would "save the company money," "make the client happy," or "reduce employee turnover," that person will only be motivated to comply with your request to the extent that they care about those outcomes.
Exchange. Exchange influence strategies include all the ways we get people to do things by engaging in some sort of trade. Putting an incentive on a certain goal and offering a bonus for a particular assignment are examples of exchange strategies. Ingratiation is a more subtle and potentially manipulative way to use an exchange to influence others. Ingratiation is giving gifts or performing favors to foster a sense of indebtedness in another party. Later, when you want that party to do something for you, that sense of indebtedness can either consciously or unconsciously influence their decision. The advantage of exchange over reason is that you don't have to justify your request--as long as the other party wants what you have to offer they'll comply. Exchange works even when the party you're trying to influence doesn't have the same values and priorities that you do. Exchange strategies answer the "What's in it for me?" question. Of course, the problem is that you have to give something to the other party, such as some form of reward or incentive. Furthermore, once you start using incentives to get compliance, people will expect you to offer them inducements when you try to influence them in the future. A drawback specific to the ingratiation strategy is that it can actually cause the opposite of the intended effect if the plan becomes obvious, because people resent being manipulated.
Pressure. Pressure influence strategies involve coercion or intimidation. People comply with these strategies to avoid the negative consequences of not doing so. Sometimes those negative consequences are clearly stated (i.e., coercion), other times they're implied (i.e., intimidation). Some examples of the range of negative consequences that you could use include quitting and leaving someone (e.g., your boss) in a bind, firing someone, docking their pay, requiring overtime, or embarrassing them publicly. The advantage of pressure is that it can be get quick compliance, but that's about all I can say in defense of pressure. Pressure tends to create insecurity, resentment, and distrust. It should be used as a last resort.
In summary, reason, exchange, and pressure are used to influence others in organizations. Whenever we can use the reason strategy to influence others, we probably should. Exchange can also be effective, and it's particularly useful when parties have different values and priorities. Pressure can be effective too, but it should be practiced with the utmost care.
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Practicing This Management Skill
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About the Photo
As Dallas Cowboys linebacker Dexter Coakley (right) attempts to tackle Philadelphia Eagles running back Duce Staley, Staley uses his power and leverage to stop him, during a National Football League game in Philadelphia, September 22, 2002. The Eagles easily defeated the Cowboys, 44-13. (REUTERS/Tim Shaffer: e-mailed to me from Yahoo News!, www.news.yahoo.com.)
Whetten, D. A., & Cameron, K. S. (2002). Developing management skills, (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
About the Newsletter
LeaderLetter is written by Dr. Scott Williams, Department of Management, Raj Soin College of Business, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. It is a supplement to my MBA 751 - Managing People in Organizations class. It is intended to reinforce the course concepts and maintain communication among my former MBA 751 students, but anyone is welcome to subscribe. In addition, subscribers are welcome to forward this newsletter to anyone who they believe would have an interest in it. To subscribe, simply send an e-mail message to me requesting subscription. Of course, subscriptions to the newsletter are free. To unsubscribe, e-mail a reply indicating that you would like to unsubscribe.
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E-mail Your Comments
Whether you are one of my former students or not, I invite you to share any insights or concerns you have regarding the topic of this newsletter or any other topic relating to management skills. Please e-mail them to me. Our interactions have been invaluable. Every week, I learn something new from LeaderLetter subscribers! Let's keep the conversation going.
A Good, Clean Joke
If you love something, set it free.
If it comes back, it will always be yours.
If it doesn't come back, it was never yours to begin with.
But, if it just sits in your living room, messes up your stuff, eats your food, uses your telephone, takes your money, and doesn't appear to realize you set it free ...
You either married it or gave birth to it.
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