Be a Person of Influence: Help Them Love What They Hate
I was working in L.A. this past week and everywhere I went people were discussing the recent NBA free trade move by LeBron James to become a Laker. While driving the rental car there was a debate on the radio about what this potentially means for his new teammates, walking into Costco there were LeBron jerseys everywhere, and in restaurants, people were talking excitedly about a new potential championship team in the West. There is no doubt that King James is set to make quite the impact on the City of Angels.
The question here, as it pertains to leadership, is what influenced LeBron to make the move out of Cleveland? It seems he had it all. He made all the money he could ever spend, he was king to the Cleveland fan base, his kids were well settled in school and sports activities, he was running a charitable foundation that he is very devoted to and, most of all, he was home!
For any of you who have made a big move across country, you know what a challenge it can be when you are so well established and have roots firmly planted. But somehow, someone influenced LeBron to make the change. Change is tough and for most of us, something we don’t love – and sometimes even hate. The truth is that those of us who lead teams and/or are a part of a team, at various points in our career, need to know how to motivate them to change their course…much in the same way that those surrounding James influenced him to make such a big, bold move. In other words, you have to know how to be an influencer.
How Can You Influence and Inspire Others to Change?
In our coaching and consulting world individuals in organizations ask us all the time...How can we motivate people? How can we encourage staff to get excited about a new initiative? What can we do to influence people to be more intrinsically vs. extrinsically driven? Is there a way to tap into what motivates people and get them to change a behavior or activity that seems to be so ingrained in their personality? The answer we have is that, yes, you can influence people to change, but in order to make meaningful change happen you have to dig a little deeper. One great resource for you, our readers, is the book "Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change". It is full of case studies, applications and research that backs up this approach.
The great news is research shows that people can learn ways to actually enjoy almost anything, even if an activity or behavior isn’t always satisfying. The famous psychiatrist M. Scott Peck makes this point: “Just because a behavior is natural, does not mean it is….unchangeable…it is also natural…to never brush our teeth. Yet we teach ourselves to do the unnatural. Another characteristic of human nature – perhaps the one that makes us more human – is our capacity to do the unnatural, to transcend and hence transform our own nature.”
I’m going to extend it even further here. Humans can actually find ways to wholly buy into activities that aren’t inherently enjoyable. Depending on your point of view, ensuring food safety in a restaurant by the kitchen staff taking note of expiration dates can feel like either a tedious distraction or a sacred duty. Finishing tasks on time can feel like either a bureaucratic nightmare or a demonstration of integrity. Moving to a new city with your family can feel either like overwhelming drudgery or it can be a fun new adventure. The question is, how can you help individuals make vital behaviors feel more like the latter than the former?
There is one key trait that influencers have that separates them from everyone else. Influencers are very reluctant to conclude that people don’t change due to something being wrong in their character. Rather, they suspect that misbehaviors might be caused by something less severe. In their view, others don’t suffer from a moral defect but rather from moral slumber. The problem is not that these people are incapable of caring about others. It’s that they aren’t thinking about others at that particular moment. A great example is a doctor who fails to wash her hands between patients may not be uncaring about patients. It could be that at this moment she is not thinking about germs and infections. She’s thinking about examining a condition or perhaps even comforting a family member.
When we want people to change we typically have only one set of strategies – we nag, guilt and threaten. And since that is all we have, we use them over and over. I’m going to give you a little insight that it doesn’t have to be this way! If you have to move people in a new direction you have to have a new approach. I’m happy to tell you that influencers use three tactics to help people love what they hate and they are here for you to implement:
Tactic 1. Allow for Choice
Think about how you respond when people try to remove your free will. Your natural reaction is to resist. One of the deepest human drives stems from the desire to retain our autonomy. The history of civilization frequently demonstrates that we would rather lose our lives than surrender our freedom. It doesn’t matter how small the encroachment on our agency; we’ve been known to go to war over it.
Even though it goes against our nature, the best way to help individuals align their behavior with their deepest motives is to stop trying to control their thoughts and behaviors. You must replace judgment with empathy and lectures with questions. If you do so, you gain influence. The instant you stop trying to impose your agenda on others, you eliminate the fight for control, you end unnecessary battles over whose view of the world is correct.
One of the best examples I know of and reference often is Southwest Airlines. Several years ago they needed to cut their expenses in order to stay viable financially. The airline could have just told people where to cut the expenses or simply laid off a portion of their workforce. Instead, they explained the situation to the employees, connected with their sense of service to customers and their fellow co-workers and asked them to take the initiative to reduce expenses themselves. The employees ended up saving more than the 5% without compromising the customer experience and without a single layoff. They were given a choice.
Tactic 2. Create Direct Experiences
We humans often make poor choices because we prefer the short-term benefits of our current behavior over the long-term benefits of doing the right thing – chocolate cake today (yum) vs. the unknown likelihood of a stroke 20 years from now. Hmmm…pass that dessert is likely what we would say.
The most powerful way to help people recognize, feel and believe in the long-term implications of their choices is to get out of their way and let them experience them firsthand. There is an old saying “Travel trumps reading.” Well, that is relevant here. Trying to convince someone with verbal persuasion by describing activities and outcomes for which they have no frame of reference and asking them to make immediate sacrifices in order to achieve them simply won’t work.
A great example of this is a well-respected construction company was recently having difficulty getting their laborers to comply with and be passionate about workplace safety. Instead of continuing to harp on the importance, the team project lead had the whole team visit a former co-worker who had been injured on the job. This man and his family were struggling to make ends meet, living on disability. The team spent a day fixing the family’s roof, painting the kitchen and laying sod in the backyard. This “field trip” not only helped the injured workers family, but also transformed the team’s commitment to workplace safety. For this group, safety rules became more than rules. They became moral commitments.
Tactic 3. Tell Meaningful Stories
We’ve all been in a “motivational” setting where we’ve felt a potent sense of conviction about doing something, only to have it be forgotten hours after the speech. Although it clearly takes more than a story to drive change, when used in combination with other influence methods, storytelling can be a powerful tool in anyone’s influence toolbox.
Time and time again we have seen influencers awaken people to the profound choices they were making by telling poignant, authentic, and compelling stories that put a human face on people’s actions. Independent of the industry – whether it is healthcare, financial or manufacturing – leaders who help build a sense of mission in their organizations are always storytellers.
If you were a kid in the 70’s you’ll remember several TV shows that were directly aimed at telling a meaningful story to influence social change. From the Brady Bunch to All in the Family to Afterschool Specials all of these TV shows had an impact because they engaged you in a situation you cared about and then illustrated the "blowback" of certain behaviors in order to influence us to change. But storytelling isn’t just for TV. You as a leader can illustrate, or “paint the picture” of the change you are looking for. Be a storyteller.
So getting back to LeBron...my guess is that all three of these tactics were used to get him to go to the Lakers. First, he had a choice. He delivered on his goal of bringing a title to Northeast Ohio when He led the Cavaliers to a historic comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals against Golden State. He effectively got rid of the "ghosts" that haunted him the first time he left Cleveland. Second, LeBron had direct experiences with previously moving his family and the opportunity to have a fresh start in L.A. was too good to pass up. Most of his business interests are there and getting his kids to the west coast will serve to elevate their status as potential top recruits in both sports and academics. Finally, there is the storytelling surrounding the King James dynasty. No NBA player rises to the occasion when the spotlight is brightest the way LeBron has in his 15-year career. Whether it’s dropping 50 points in Madison Square Garden or claiming his third All-Star MVP on the court at Staples Center, James was made for big moments. What bigger moment is there than stepping on to the court wearing the uniform that Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant played in? And what big moment is waiting for you as you more effectively influence those in your charge?