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7 Influencing Lessons From A Tough Scottish Boss

        posted by , January 10, 2013

How confident are you in your influencing skills?

After weeks of pushing an important idea, are you hearing feedback and buzz? Are people debating with you? Are wheels moving?

It's difficult to sell ideas and initiatives. It's competitive. Everyone has their own ideas. Ideas are common. What's uncommon is the influencing skills required to bring your ideas to fruition.

Some people make it look easy. Every idea they have spreads like wildfire.

You know who these influencers are. They get attention. Their ideas get even more attention. They get budget to pursue their every whim. People look to them for direction.

Tired of living in their shadow? If so, allow me to share with you what I learned about influence from the toughest boss I've ever had.

Lessons in Influence

The toughest boss I ever had was a rowdy Scottish fellow working in Tokyo. When he first joined our firm as chief architect — he scared the heck out of us all.

For one thing, none of us could understand a word he was saying (least of all my Japanese coworkers).

It's amazing how quickly you can adapt to a thick Scottish accent. It wasn't long before we all understood him. Many of us started to adopt some of his colorful English. For example, he was very fond of calling people muppets.

He was a great boss who nurtured leaders in his team. More, importantly he was a great influencer who drove enormous change.

How skilled was he at influencing?

He could walk into a meeting and tell the leader of a business unit how to run his or her business — and they'd listen. This despite the fact that (on the surface) they seemed to dislike him.

Sure, they'd argue with him (usually heatedly) but in the end they would implement many of his ideas.

He's just that good at influencing.

These are the 7 things he taught me about influence.

1. Don't Sell Crap Ideas

Influence in subject areas that you've mastered.

If you don't know much about mergers and acquisitions (M&A) — you're not going to be able to influence M&A strategy. Your M&A ideas will be naive.

My Scottish boss was well versed in architecture, business and technology – you'd be hard pressed to beat his knowledge in a range of subject areas. When he didn't know an area, he was incredibly curious and inquisitive.

You need to earn your influence. When you know a subject area better than anyone else in your organization, it won't be long before people follow you.

2. Sell Into Moments of Appreciation

There's a persistent and annoying myth that great influencers are hands off types (who never deliver anything but ideas). That's unrealistic bunk.

If you want to influence you'll need to deliver. Napoleon won battles. Kennedy was a war hero. My Scottish boss was a prolific technologist who'd deliver quick little projects that solved big problems. Sometimes he programmed solutions himself.

Whenever he'd deliver some great value – he'd sell new ideas directly into his applause. He seemed to sense that appreciation fades quickly. You've got to grab it when you've got it and use it to sell your next idea.

3. Upsell Like a Madman

If someone accepts your idea or funds your initiative — your first instinct may be to retract in appreciation. A great influencer will use the moment of a successful sale to sell some more. My Scottish boss upsold like a madman and it worked.

4. Sell to Everyone in the Chain of Influence

Practically every boss I've ever had only sells up. They keep their best ideas secret until they get some face time with a power broker.

Great influencers sell to everyone in the organization. They'll implant ideas with every opportunity.

My Scottish boss sold most of his ideas to me. I got the impression he was practicing for his real sales pitch. Just like advertising agencies test every campaign before it goes out — great influencers test and refine their message whenever they can.

5. Sell Small

It's difficult to sell a big idea. They're hard to swallow. People just don't want to hear them.

If I told you that the best way to improve your influencing skills is to quit your job, move to India and spend much of the next year meditating — you wouldn't want to hear it.

The idea is to big to be useful. You need something you can use tomorrow morning in the office.

Big initiatives need to be broken into small, easily implementable actions.

It's more fun to sell a big idea. It makes people feel important to suggest big changes. The only problem is – they don't sell.

My Scottish boss would sell initiatives in nice bite sized chunks. These chunks fit together like building blocks to a greater vision. It was a beautiful thing.

6. Tell Stories

I know more about the Scottish countryside than you'd believe. My boss would wrap every idea in a story. He'd sell it other ways too but a colorful story was always part of the package.

People easily tire of logical arguments. If you really want people to get what you're saying — wrap it in humor, analogy and narrative.

7. Use Persuasion

The art of persuasion is a close cousin of influence. My boss used a basic technique that works:

1. Show empathy for a painful problem.
Outline a problem that your audience cares about and show empathy – you understand exactly what they're going through.

2. Tell them that you'll show them a solution. Tell them where you got the solution.
You have a solution to the problem that you got from a reputable source or a personal experience.

Emphasize that you're simply passing the information on. Most people do the opposite — they make it crystal clear that ideas are theirs!

3. Outline the solution in a list
People find it easier to consume information that's presented as a numbered list.

4. Address objections up front
Anticipate your audience's objections and state them yourself. It's better if you address objections up front.

I know this will be expensive but it will pay back in 4 months ...

Now Go Out and Influence

These influencing techniques can be used for presentations, meetings and conversation. They can even be jammed into something as short as an elevator pitch.

They represent the basic habits of highly influential people. Use them as your basic strategy and refine them with your own style.

You may not end up selling every idea you have but you'll become an important part of the conversation. You'll never be sidelined again.

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