I had a great conversation with a founder a few weeks ago about her leadership style and it got me thinking about the role persuasion plays in business leadership. It’s a skill that I feel a lot of people misunderstand and is one that can be incredibly powerful when done well.
The term persuasion has the potential to carry negative connotations, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It is an important distinction to make about persuasion. Persuasion isn’t about convincing people to your viewpoint or convincing someone to do something you want. Not at all. Persuasion is about understanding what others want and leveraging this information to elicit an outcome.
A persuasive leader is, therefore, someone that can figure out what another party wants and then demonstrate the best way for that party to get it. A persuasive leader can achieve this without underhandedness or deception, and it is one of the best skills we can practice as leaders ourselves.
At its core, by seeking to understand what people want, and what drives them, what we are really doing is establishing empathy. Establishing empathy is the first, and most important, step to being able to persuade someone, and it’s the part that leaders get wrong most often. If you don’t understand the person you are trying to persuade, then you will have a very hard time trying to persuade them.
The key point that people often miss is that true empathy has nothing to do with you. Empathy is not your opinion of what drives the other person or what you think they believe. It’s about them. Empathy is the ability to step into someone else’s mind and understand what they feel and why they feel it. It’s about understanding their frames of reference and points of view from their collective experiences. It’s about seeing the world as they do.
It can be very hard to empathise with someone who is completely different to you, and this is where many leaders struggle. To highlight this point, try and put yourself in the shoes of a serial killer, or a white supremacist. Try and see the world from their eyes and instantly your mind starts telling you that what you’re thinking is morally wrong. Thinking about what motivates a serial killer can make many of us uncomfortable, and this clouds our ability to build empathy.
Now try and put yourself in the shoes of someone you don’t get on with. Try and see the world from their eyes and see if your mind starts to fight back with your personal feelings. With our personal feelings clouding our ability to build empathy, we will always struggle to persuade this person.
The key to overcoming this emotional bias, and thus ‘The #1 hack to becoming a more persuasive leader’, is to understand that establishing empathy doesn’t equal agreeing with a view point. Nor does empathy require agreement of a view point to be effective.
By empathising with someone you are seeing the world as they do and thus establishing why that person behaves like they do. This is very different to agreeing with their point of view. Remember, it’s not about you.
Knowing this, try again to put yourself in the shoes of a serial killer, or a white supremacist. You will find that you can start to critically assess what might motivate them, and thus why they behave like they do, with far more clarity.
By understanding that empathy doesn’t equal, or require, agreement of a persons view point, you will discover that establishing empathy is far easier than previously thought. From here, the foundation for persuasion is established and you’re on your way to becoming a more persuasive leader.
About the author — Aidan Kenealy
My mission is to help those with high growth businesses realise their vision for success. I draw from the unique lessons learned growing EMGN to help founders and CEOs get the best out of what their businesses can be.
If you would like to discuss how I can help you and your business — please reach out via LinkedIn or email firstname.lastname@example.org