Influencing the leader will be the most challenging of all decision makers. In reality, you can’t even influence them. You can only influence them to influence themselves. The only two things that you can use to do so are time and fear. You need time, because leaders work at their own pace and will not be rushed by anyone. And you need to reduce their fear as much as possible in order for them to take action. Here are the key steps to doing so.
Never try to force a leader into doing something. You could be giving a leader the best advice possible, but if they feel for a moment that you have a hidden agenda, they will become combative and defensive. They will relentlessly begin questioning you. When this happens it’s best to gain your composure and stay patient. Never become defensive or take things personally. You have to see leaders for what they are- people primarily driven by fear. This fear can sometimes transform into the complete terror of making a bad decision.
The key to dealing with a leader is to not let your emotions take hold of you. Remain calm and reassure them. If you can effectively silence their fears, you’ll gain compliance from them. The challenge is that in their mind the fears don’t exist. A leader will never want to admit to anyone else or to themselves that they are afraid of anything. So they will often put off making a fearful decision by asking for additional information, when in reality, they might not even look at the information that they asked for. If you sense that a leader is simply procrastinating when he or she is asking you for additional information, it’s important to provide the information anyway. Every time you respond to one of their requests, you actually reduce their fear slightly without actually calling them out on it.
During your presentation with a leader, be prepared for long intervals of silence as they often become very self-absorbed. In meetings the key to influencing a leader is having a presentation that is linear and very well structured. While they enjoy details, they only take them seriously if they feel they are being presented from someone who is an expert at what they do. When you present data, it must be combined with discipline, authority, strength, power and command. They admire and are open to approaches that are very straightforward and exude confidence.
In the end, the leader’s decision to comply will come from within. Therefore, as I said earlier, you can’t really influence them per se. You can influence them to influence themselves. The key to it is to always let them feel as though they are in control. Their decisions must come from their thoughts and opinions rather than yours. Think of it this way- when dealing with a leader, your job is not to sell. Instead, it’s to give them the opportunity to make a purchase. Your best course of action is to give them everything they need to make a decision and supply them with what they asked for. Then you can sit back while they influence themselves to take action. This allows the leader take ownership over the idea, which is what they want more than anything else.
Some years ago, I had a business partner who was a leader who was obsessed with control. I needed a certain amount of help from him, and I knew that if I got this help it would improve my financial situation drastically. The problem is that I also knew that he wouldn’t be willing to give it to me, because in his mind, the financial gain that I would receive would be something that he feared. You see a leader always likes to feel like he or she is in a better position than those surrounding him or her. Therefore, the thought of him giving me something that would possibly make me more money than him was something that he wasn’t comfortable with. Rather than asking him for what I needed, I asked him how he thought I could make more money with my business. In his mind, I was calling on him for his expertise and good judgment. He willingly complied, and gave me what I needed as a result. My income doubled that year.
Because leaders often take an extremely long time to make decisions, a good tactic is to give them a deadline that is controlled by an external factor rather than you, This is where you create urgency to circumstances beyond your control so that you are not perceived as the bad guy.
For example, when I was selling gym memberships, the object of the game was always to get the person to join on that day. Initially, we have something called the first. This is an incentive, which meant that you would save money if you joined on your first visit to the club. Oftentimes people would say, “Well, what if I come back tomorrow. You won’t give me the discount?” This makes you appear as someone that doesn’t want to do business with them. So I began to change my presentation and say that the sale ended on that day, or that there were only a limited amount of memberships left. This creates the same urgency and gives the same deadline; only it doesn’t position me as the person who’s in control of that deadline. Therefore, I can’t make any adjustments to it. They must act that day if they want the best deal possible.
You must also know your bottom line when dealing with a leader, as they will often try to push the limits as far as they can get them. Never rush the leader, as you will only make them defensive and resistant to being influenced.