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Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change (2013) teaches leaders how to achieve quick, lasting, and valuable change. Leaders must identify a few “vital behaviors” [1] that, if performed consistently and correctly, will have the most impact on the desired goal. By using six “sources of influence,” [2] one can lead followers to new, better behaviors.

A leader must set a goal that is focused and measurable. An ideal goal is highly specific and has a persuasive, emotional quality that will result in a more fervent effort. For example, in December 2004, the chief executive of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Dr. Don Berwick, issued a challenge to American medical professionals to save 100,000 lives by June 14, 2006, through reduction of preventable harm in hospitals. This 100,000 Lives Campaign reached this goal before the deadline, demonstrating that an inspiring goal convinces people to put more effort into the process.

After setting a goal, the next step is to measure progress frequently. A change in productivity or income can be measured easily, but behavioral change is harder to assess. When frequent measurements are taken, the process and the goal stay front-of-mind for everyone involved.

Very few actual behaviors need to change, and those that do can be identified in crucial moments that become turning points for success or failure. By reinforcing the behavior that leads to the desired outcome or fixing the behavior that leads to trouble, leaders can increase the likelihood of achieving the goal.

The process of change starts by giving individuals the freedom to make their own decision to change rather than delivering an order. It continues with hands-on exposure to the situation that has been targeted for improvement. Dr. Mimi Silbert is a founder of the world-renowned Delancey Street rehabilitation center, ushers her residents, who are addicts, through higher education and cultural enrichment to show them that something more fulfilling than life on the streets does exist. As an effective leader, she inspires individuals to buy into their own process of change.

It’s necessary to help everyone attain the ability to do the new tasks required for the change. Practice is key to mastering something new and different and should be accompanied by regular, detailed feedback. People certainly will get frustrated; a leader will find ways to help them overcome that inevitable fear of failure.

Possibly the strongest ammunition in the leader’s arsenal is the power of the group. Leaders gain respect when they commit a precious resource, such as personal time, and publicly acknowledge their mistakes as the change occurs. By choosing spokespeople whom the group respects, the leader multiplies the power of persuasion. It is vital to bring people together to talk openly and honestly, and to encourage the group to come up with creative solutions together. For example, at Danny Meyer’s acclaimed Union Square Hospitality Group in New York City, each server at every restaurant is paired with a mentor from among the servers to ensure each guest is given an extraordinary experience. Residents of Delancey Street also mentor newcomers, making people responsible for each other’s behavior, success, and failure.

Rewards are motivational, but they should only be offered once the group has coalesced. Providing small incentives can build and maintain the momentum towards change, but only if they’re used to reward positive behaviors rather than to acknowledge reaching an external marker of success.

The right physical space and proper tools have immense power over a group’s ability to change. Among other positive environmental influences, leaders should bring the right teams into close proximity, make the correct behaviors blatantly obvious, and provide the right tools for the job. By providing enough durable filters to women for cleaning water of the dangerous Guinea worm larva, Dr. Donald Hopkins of Atlanta’s Carter Center has nearly driven out a horrific scourge that tortured the population of sub-Saharan Africa for centuries. 

Influencing people to make a change for the better is a major undertaking, but it can be and has been done successfully. A leader’s best chance to success lies in putting to work all these methods, rather than cherry-picking the easiest, quickest, or least disruptive. A leader will find the root of the problem before putting influence to work. A leader brings a community together to generate ideas and resources and shares the hard-earned joys of success with the entire group.

The main key insights for this book is:

  1. Knowing how to change the way people behave is a highly desirable skill to master, as there is a constant need for successful influencers but a limited supply of them.
  2. By bringing the goal of the desired change into sharp focus in a measurable way, a leader can reach more people than if the goal is vague.
  3. A vital behavior can be identified by finding the people who manage to succeed despite conditions that have caused the others around them to struggle.
  4. Just as professional athletes or musicians perfect their skills, anyone can develop abilities through deliberate practice, feedback, and willpower.
  5. One of the most fruitful ways for a leader to build and maintain trust is by engaging with the group’s influencers, making personal sacrifices, and sincerely apologizing publicly when an inevitable slip-up on the leader’s part occurs.
  6. To make successful, long-lasting change, a leader must create an environment where exposing negative behaviors is risk-free.
  7.  A group of people concentrated on a task will come up with more ideas and solutions and exert more effort more effectively than any one person. A leader must support effective teamwork to profit from this valuable force.
  8. Rather than waiting to celebrate the ultimate achievement, using a structural motivation to give small rewards early and often can spark progress.
  9. The environment can be changed more easily than people, and overcoming obstacles of space and distance can have a powerful influence on a group’s performance.
  10. Making the designated better behavior a routine part of the day or week makes it more difficult to avoid. A leader will schedule regular meetings or devise a ritual that reinforces the behavior that will affect the change needed.

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