How to Influence Leaders: 2 Tips for Creating Positive Change

Business, Personal Growth | 5 Comments
how to influence leaders

I was the only man in the room. When I had entered several minutes before, I knew that the situation was beyond anything I could’ve imagined. I was about to talk to 12 women in bathrobes. Their hair still wet from showers, they wore towels on their heads wrapped like turbans. Oh…and they were incredibly upset.

Nancy Lopez, a World Golf Hall of Famer and captain of the 2005 USA Solheim Cup team (the LPGA counterpart to the PGA’s Ryder Cup), had called, asking me to fly in on the spur of the moment. The American team had endured a rough first day against the Europeans and their leader Annika Sorenstam, who at the time was the number one woman golfer in the world.

Nancy captained an American team stacked with legends—Julie Inkster, Meg Mallon, Pat Hurst, and Beth Daniel among them. She also had an unusually large number of rookies on the team. Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Christina Kim, and Cristie Kerr. Those players are well known now, of course. At the time, however, thrown into the media circus of their first international competition, they were unproven and nervous.

In the media’s eyes, Nancy had made a controversial decision—rather than following the usual strategy of playing the team’s rookies later in the tournament, she had decided to play them on opening day.

how to influence leaders

Why would she do something so unorthodox? Because she had once been in their shoes. As a rookie, Nancy had to wait until late in the tournament to play, and she could vividly recall how she had grown more nervous with each passing hour. And when she finally did get on the course, she had not played well.

The strategy made sense, but it had left the American team with a huge deficit. Spirits were low, and Nancy had asked me to help right the ship.

I’m sure you can relate to what I was thinking at the time…

How can I, someone who plays golf less than five times per year, influence an entire room of the sport’s top leaders?

In the end, I leaned on two things anyone can use to influence leaders, no matter the situation.

2 Things You Can Do to Influence Leaders

While my situation may seem a bit extreme, I guarantee you’ve been in some type of position where you were asked to solve a problem or give advice to people you knew were much more qualified to fix the problem.

1. Be humble.

It’s important to approach situations like this with a humble attitude—even if it’s obvious the person you are talking to needs to change some things.

Show appreciation for their hard work and accomplishments, and display gratefulness for the opportunity they’ve given you (whether that’s employment or a few minutes of their time).

I told these ladies up front I couldn’t give them anything they could use to be better at golf—they were already among the best golfers in the world.

Admitting what you might see as a lack of “qualifications” will rarely disadvantage you. Instead, the people you’re talking to will subconsciously connect with your honesty and listen more closely. You’ll gain credibility, an essential ingredient of influence, and establish rapport.

Next, you’ll do something that is critical (though it might sound obvious…)

2. Remind them of what they already know.

In stressful situations, even the most successful people tend to overlook or forget the things that got them where they are.

how to influence leaders

So for about 45 minutes, I reminded the American Solheim Cup team of what they already knew. Things like:

  • The Solheim Cup is a three-day tournament. Ultimately, nobody cares how you start. They’ll only remember how you finish.
  • As you stand over the ball and settle in, NOTHING matters less to the outcome of this next shot than the outcome of last one. (Golf aside, this applies to all areas of life.)
  • It’s never too late to charge.
  • You have already made every shot that will be required of you during the last two days of this tournament. You have made them many times. Your minds are tough enough to allow your muscles to remember. Where your mind goes, your body will follow.

Obvious, right? You know these things, I know these things, and the team certainly knew these things.

But there is a HUGE difference between knowing something…and having the wisdom to truly believe it.

Adversity always has the ability to cloud our judgment, even at the highest levels of performance and competition. Leaders are never immune to its effects.

If you want principles to work in your life, you must carve them into memory. In The Traveler’s Gift, this is why Gabriel instructed David Ponder to read each of the Seven Decisions twice every day for twenty-one days before moving to the next one. This exercise, Gabriel knew, would cement each principle into Ponder’s life.

When we fail to remind ourselves of the things we know to be true, our level of belief fades. And above all else, your level of belief determines your ability to accomplish things.

That’s why there is power in reminding leaders of the things they know to be true.

After I reminded Nancy and the team about what they already knew, they went on to complete one of the greatest comebacks in golf history, clinching America’s sixth Solheim Cup victory.

How to Influence Leaders

The area of my office that reminds me of the extraordinary accomplishments of the 2005 USA Solheim Cup team.

Knowing How to Influence Leaders Will Allow You to Help Them Change

Influencing leaders is all about refocusing their perspective. The quickest way to do that is often hidden in the things we dismiss as obvious—time-tested principles that can be creatively applied to their unique situation.

This works whether you’re trying to help them turn around bad performance or change a bad behavior.

Maybe they have been mistreating their employees.

Maybe they haven’t paid close enough attention to an important detail or project.

Maybe they haven’t been holding up their end of the bargain.

Whatever it is, using these two steps can allow you to help them see truth in the situation. From truth, we gain perspective. And as I’ve said before…

Perspective brings calm. Calm leads to clear thinking. Clear thinking yields new ideas. And from ideas, we get answers.

Question: What are some strategies you’ve used to influence leaders? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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  • Rob

    Hi Andy,
    Thank you for this. In politics ,everyone has an agenda. Most often their are goals to be met and it requires a consensus. While we may have the best idea in the world not everyone is going to agree with you. I have my greatest success when I sell the benefits of the program to the individual. I attempt to have them imagine how the program has already benefited them.
    If they can actually imagine themselves enjoying the benefits and they are convinced the effort or cost is not too great a burden to pay; then we both win. Irrational fears and perceived negative consequences are the most difficult obstacle to overcome. That is my greatest struggle. Some people are so ingrained in their belief system that prying those doubts from them is nearly impossible.

  • Love this story. Thank you Andy for sharing. And we know your office is both sacred and fertile ground (ha!).

    I think one of the first steps to influencing leaders is to become familiar, and even intimate with their work. To allow the life experiences of a special other to change you is a humble act in of itself, and a wise choice for dopes like me…a hard teaching.

  • Jeff

    Humility is a hard skill to learn and master as is forgetting what is behind and look forward. Thanks for the insights. Love your stories.

  • Ricky Dearmon

    I have found myself in a situation as a leader that the group I am leading has such a larger knowledge of the process than myself. I have grown to understand that it’s not my knowledge of the process that’s important, but the positive influence I can have in supporting this group and helping them be the best that they can be. Thanks Andy for this article

  • Scott Kay

    Hello Andy,

    I think that all people, especially successful people, are so focused they they walk the exact same path so long that it becomes a rut. And they walk that rut so often that the depth of it increases to the point that it is over their head and getting deeper. They can only see one destination because the walls of the rut won’t allow them to see anything else. The walls have actually gotten so narrow and tight that they can no longer turn around to look behind them to see how they got to where they are.They have become blinded by their own one-way thinking that they are trapped and don’t even realize it.

    People sometimes forget how they got to where they are are in life, in a job, in a career, or in a marriage. They forget the friends, the family, the training, the instructors, the books they’ve read, the experiences they’ve had to get them to the point where they are. All these things have formed them into the successful person they are. And they should always remember them and be able to recall other situations to be able to make quality future decisions.

    I think you, like Jones, are a Noticer, and have the ability see great things in others. When you relay those observations to them, they can see another perspective and gain a new understanding. Once people see a new perspective, things appear to be a lot less complicated than they originally thought. It is truly remarkable, and I am constantly striving to become a Noticer myself. Thank you for all you do.

    Your friend,

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