sources of Influence

Only 6% of leaders are successful in influencing the behaviour of their employees.

This finding from an online survey of 2308 people, conducted by VitalSmarts, paints a dire picture of the state of leadership in business. According to the study, leaders typically focus on planning and controlling, but few take the time to effectively motivate and influence those who will be required to execute the leader’s plans. (HR Future) When you add to this the amount of diversity we have in South Africa matters gets worse. Influence is not one size fits all - individuals’ values, motives and culture influence how they react to certain techniques and methods of influence. A good example of this is from a survey conducted by Citibank. The survey found that mangers in their Hong Kong and China branches would feel most compelled to assist a colleague if the colleague held a higher position than themselves. For managers in Spain the determining factor was friendship. (Cliffe, 2013) Ex CEO of McCarthy, Brand Pretorius, explains this dynamic as the difference between management and leadership: “When it comes to implementation, management is critical, but when it comes to inspiration, it makes no difference whatsoever because leadership is critical.” (Plessis, 2011)  

So what is influence?

The Oxford online dictionary defines influence as ”the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself”. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines influence as “the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen”.

A model for enhancing influence:

From the problem statement and the definitions it is clear that influence is an important skill to have, but why are so many leaders failing at it? The problem lies in the fact that leaders often focus exclusively on one or two tactics and are surprised when they don’t see results. In the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, Patterson et al offers a model that explains six sources of influence that drive employee behaviour. Using all six sources of influence can strengthen your hand considerably when you want to influence the behaviour of others. 6-sources-of-influence-borderThe model is based on two basic questions namely:

  • A motivation question: “Is it worth it?”
  • An ability question: “Can you do it?”

They then consider these questions from the following perspectives:

  • Personal, i.e. the person to be influenced.
  • Social, i.e. the group’s influence on the individual.
  • Structural, i.e. the physical environment’s influence on the individual.


Six sources of influence:

Personal motivation: Make the undesirable, desirable

Make the desired behaviour appealing to the individual by linking it to something he or she values personally. Suggest what is to be gained as well as what is to be lost should there be no action. Example: “You guys are working extremely hard, and for that I am grateful, but we have to keep going. If we lose momentum now the company will likely not be able to afford to pay bonuses, but if we pull this off we can all take our vacations and relax knowing we have achieved the impossible. ”

Personal ability: Surpass your limits

Clearly define the desired actions and behaviours and make sure they are within the employee’s capability. Leaders who are able to identify and communicate clear and concrete behavioural actions to the people they hope to influence, have a far greater chance of seeing these actions being carried out. Example: “I need each of you to get one more client on board by the end of the month. If anything is keeping you from doing this, let me know and I will take care of it.” Educating your employees on how to perform the desired behaviour also works at this level.

Social motivation: Harness peer pressure

Authority, social proof and peer-pressure are all strong social influencers. If people feel that the experts and their peers support your message and each other, or if the group expects something of them, they will be more inclined to act. Example: “This has worked extremely well in my previous team and I have James who can vouch for that. If we all commit one action each week that will move this metric up we will see the results we are looking for. Each of us will give feedback on our results at the end of each week to track our progress as a team.”

Social ability: Find strength in numbers

Figure out how to make individuals feel supported by the group. Just getting people to talk about an issue is already a step in the right direction. Example: Buddy systems, peer support groups or advocate programs can help an individual get better at the desired behaviour.

Structural motivation: Design rewards and demand accountability

Design extrinsic rewards that are clearly linked to the desired behaviour. Be careful that your rewards incentivise the right behaviours, as they can easily backfire if you have not thought them through. Example: Money, badges, scoreboards, points, gifts, group acknowledgements can all be used as instant extrinsic rewards that incentivise certain behaviours.

Structural ability: Change the environment

Alter the physical environment to make the behaviour easier and less risky. The challenge is to notice anything that could impact on the desired behaviour and then shape the space to make it easier for people to behave the way you want. Example: “You will receive a prompt each time you need to do X. If you use the online portal it will take you less than 10 minutes to complete the task.”

In Conclusion

The fact is that we are all different and no-one works in isolation. That is why your ability to influence the behaviour of others, who are different to you, is a key factor in your ability to get your own work done. It is a critical skill for any leader or manager to be effective. These six sources of influence will help you to maximise your persuasive power, even with a diverse group.

Sandra Case is manager of professional development at JvR Academy


Cliffe, S. (2013, edition 91). The uses (and abuses) of influence, interview with Robert Cialdini. Harvard Business Review. HR Future. (n.d.). Online survey finds that most leaders lack influence at work. Retrieved from HR Future: Patterson, G. M. (2007). Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. McGraw-Hill. Plessis, A. d. (2011, November). A Thought Leadership Conversation with Brand Pretorius. Retrieved from Accountancy SA: Stepper, J. (2013, January 19). The Influencer checklist. Retrieved from johnstepper: (2013, May 14). Lack influence at work? Why most leaders struggle to lead positive change. Retrieved from Photo Credit: ROSS HONG KONG via Compfight cc