The Power of Persuasion

by  Teri Aulph  |  Leadership Development

No longer is there a need for the leader who is rarely seen and even more rarely heard. I believe there are opportunities to lead from wherever you sit in your organization. This blog post, however, is focused on those who are decision makers and are responsible for outcomes as a result of the actions of their employees.

Persuasion, defined as a process that changes attitudes, beliefs, opinions, or behaviors; may be the single most powerful skill a leader may possess. Creating a desire enveloped in enough credible data to sustain the desire long enough for a group of people to take action will provide the preferred outcome. This provides a leader the ability to shift and transform employee groups and, ultimately, company cultures.

So, why are some leaders more persuasive than others? Today’s workforce is made up of employees who no longer just ask, “What should I do?” They also ask, “Why should I do it?” This supports a case for why persuasion is more critical than ever. Leaders who practice these skills are much more engaged with and trusted by their employees than those who merely present data – the old ‘command and control’.

There was a time when persuasion was considered a sales tool and defined as merely manipulation. That is no longer the case. Persuasion is a skill based on a process of learning and negotiation that leads to a shared solutions-driven outcome.
While, in theory, this appears doable, below are five steps in establishing and strengthening your personal power of persuasion.

  1. Build Credibility – true leaders must be seen as having deep expertise. They must use sound judgment and be well informed. In addition, they must cultivate and nurture strong relationships. If you develop a reputation for working towards what is best for others, you will build trust and confidence.
  2. Find Common Ground – in other words, know your employees and the culture in your workforce. People are motivated when they connect with an issue on an emotional level. When a leader considers the employee perspective prior to delivering a message, it provides an opportunity to revisit the shared advantages.
  3. Use Imagery – in order to inspire your employees to follow you, you must capture their hearts and minds. Providing only conceptual data and words, your message may be short-lived. On the other hand, if you use words that evoke vivid pictures and describe how it will feel to achieve the outcome – you will build an alliance.
  4. Connect on an Emotional Level – this is certainly not new, motivational speakers do this all the time. Matching the tone of your emotion to the ability of your audience to receive your message. Do your homework and research how previous events have been received. Due diligence will prepare you for how your message may be interpreted and assist you in crafting a message that will be best received.
  5. Remain Self-Aware – while it is important to know as much as you can about the culture in your organization and the people, as a leader, you must remain aware of your own behavior. As important as knowing how your employees will perceive your messages, leaders must remain aware of personal motivation. In positions of power, leader’s words are powerful and often are the catalysts for change. Understanding what triggers you, as the leader, to take action for change will give you a deeper and wiser understanding of your employees. Vulnerability and humility are strengths that will provide balance and clarity.

As you prepare to deliver a message of change, bad news or even celebration, take the time to craft a compelling and persuasive story that will leave your employees knowing they have the right person at the helm.

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What People Are Saying

Georgia Feiste  |  12 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Great article, Teri. For me the most critical pieces are knowing your audience well, and connecting with your heart (emotion), which for me is part of self-awareness. Remaining true to your values always allows you to speak with passion and your intent becomes clear to those you lead, and to those you follow.

This leads me to think about whether this is persuasion, or is it being authentically who you are? Or are you capable of persuading just because you are in integrity with yourself, genuinely caring about the people you interact with.

Something to ponder today, eh?


Teri Aulph  |  12 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Thank you, Georgia, for your insightful response. I believe being authentic and true to yourself are the first steps in persuasion. Connection emotionally with your employees and using language that creates imagery they can connect with paves the road to transformation. When persuasion is not wrapped in authenticity, it becomes manipulation.

samuel  |  12 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Awesome post Teri,
I agree with your points, most especially #1 and #5 That’s just the fact. Credibility matters a lot if you want to break new grounds. Yeah,you must remain self aware. Thanks so much for sharing. Have fun :)

Teri Aulph  |  12 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Samuel, Thank you for your comment. I agree, credibility is the foundation. That being true, it must remain intact as all other strengths are built upon it and are at risk if leaders are not mindful of their behavior, decisions and messages.

Jim Morgan  |  12 Jan 2011  |  Reply

My master’s thesis was on persuasion, and everything you say is correct, Teri. However, the most critical lesson of the scientific research into persuasion is that you must connect your proposal to the motives of those whom you hope to persuade. I teach people to carefully identify the people whose minds they are most likely to change (it won’t be “everyone”), and then list the motives (company and personal) those people are most likely to share. If persuading one person, choose the part of their personality most open to your solution. Then it is a matter of tying the facts of your proposal to their motives to create the list of benefits to them. That should be the core content of your message.

Teri Aulph  |  12 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Thank you for your comment, Jim. This is, obviously, your expertise and I appreciate your valuable input. I would love to hear more and learn more from you as this is an area I have studied in both my graduate programs and often include in workshops. However, I am certainly not at the level you are in expertise. Perhaps, we can connect in the future.

Steve G  |  13 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Teri –
Thanks for the insight – good read. To the point and actionable! A few points that stood out to me…

You are on point when you state… today’s workforce want to know WHY I SHOULD DO IT? (This is definitely the case – people don’t want to just be told WHAT TO DO – they want to know why if they do it, it will benefit them!) Sometimes, I believe we spend to much time on convincing people WHY THEY SHOULD DO IT…Some will get it, and others won’t – As a leader, sometimes you can’t wait to get full cooperation.

I also like your point about Vulnerability – I believe it demonstrates TRUST with your team.

Imagery is great to get people to THINK and see the vision beyond the data.

One question I am torn over is “should a leader show emotions…anger, sadness, etc…” and how does that affect their leadership ability and the team they lead?

Thanks Teri


Teri Aulph  |  14 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Thank you, Steve, for your very thoughtful comment. I don’t believe there is one right answer regarding discrete emotions. Without the context the emotional responses reside in or in what venue they are exhibited, it’s impossible to know the affect on a leader. If an employees is injured or has a tragedy, I would expect a leader to exhibit sadness, etc. However, as with all employees, if someone in a leadership role loses emotional control, they give away their power and run the risk of losing credibility.

As goes the leader, thereby goes the organization. Leaders bear a big responsibility in demonstrating confidence, optimism and stability.

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