For most of today’s leaders, their success largely depends on their ability to persuade people, such as employees, other staff members, and even family members, to get things done. In order to be successful, in today’s tough corporate world, you must be proficient in the art of persuasion. You must convince others to take action on your behalf even when you have no formal authority!
Persuasion is a vital skill for any leader to possess. They need to be able to encourage their employees to move forward to a position that they do not currently hold. Their leadership must expressly outline their ideas, tactics and solutions in ways that appeal to diverse groups of people with the same basic human emotions, and not just make a rational argument.
However, any direct effort to persuade may cause a backlash against your leadership. Persuasion is a delicate art form and one of the most difficult to learn. Mistakes along the way can have a negative impact on your career and reputation. Many executives seek help in developing this critical skill. Often they hire executive leadership coaches or a mentor. An experienced coach or mentor can significantly steepen your learning curve and help you avoid many of the pitfalls which your contemporaries are falling into.
A business or corporate mentor who provides leadership support will be able to teach a company’s executives exactly how to persuade and manage their employees more effectively, thereby improving company rankings. If the mentor is a successful entrepreneur or businessperson in their own right, they can help executives become more successful by drawing on their own experiences. A mentor should be much more successful and experienced than you are in the area of persuasion – otherwise, they should be paying you for advice!
The first thing that such a mentor would teach an executive is that they should always consider their own positions from every angle prior to attempting to persuade any other employee. Presenting your ideas takes planning. Learn about your audience and prepare your arguments. Your mentor will help you prepare – to realize that effective communication is always the key to the persuasion process.
A good executive must allow their employees to talk about solutions, and debate the merits of your position, as well as offer honest feedback and suggest alternatives. A leadership mentor will help you think out and revise your ideas in a way that reflects your employees’ concerns and needs. Successful leadership is dependent on being both open-minded and willing to incorporate compromises.
Most business mentors will teach an executive that there are a few rather basic leadership steps to take in order to achieve successful persuasion. The first is to establish trust and credibility with your peers and employees. It is a good idea to always remember that proper trust and credibility arises from both expertise and employee perception of you as a leader. Always pay attention to the suggestions of your employees and set up an environment in which they know that their opinions are valued. Be open to collecting data and information that both support and contradict your arguments.
The second step is to understand your audience. A leadership mentor will show you how to present your goals in such a way that you are able to demonstrate common ground with your employees. Your main objective is to identify substantial benefits to which your targeted audience, your employees, can relate. This will require a dialogue – to assemble essential information by asking thoughtful questions of your employees. In some instances, this persuasion process will often cause you to amend your initial argument and include a few compromises. Your mentor will help you identify the key decision makers within your company and will assist you in determining their interests and how those interests could benefit your position.
When emphasizing your proposal it is always more compelling to use frank and direct verbal communication. This way there can be fewer misunderstandings. You will also need to present evidence to prove your point and advance your proposal. Your mentor can assist you in determining which types of evidence and presentation would be most effective.
Your ability to connect with your employees is enhanced through your intellectual and emotional commitment to your position. Executive leaders, who are able to persuade employees successfully, develop a accurate and compassionate understanding of their employee’s emotional state and adjust the tone of their arguments accordingly. All leadership mentors will tell you that, regardless of your executive position, you must always attempt to match your enthusiasm and the pace and content of your communications to your employee’s ability to receive your message.
If the art of persuasion is a challenge for you, then consider hiring a well-qualified and experienced leadership mentor. The investment will pay off for years to come.
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD
I provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I also provide advisory services to CEO and senior teams – particularly mid-market companies. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk. Send me an e-mail and we can arrange a time to chat.
 I cannot make this point too clearly – avoid any coach without actual experiences that demonstrate their success in this area. Avoid particularly those coaches who seem to be basing their advice on an intellectual study of the art of persuasion. These ‘all hat and no cattle’ consultants can do great damage.
 This is particularly true when it comes to carefully reviewing your motivations and what would be seen as your apparent motivations. Persuasion is based on trust and trust is difficult to establish if your motives are distrusted.
 I am constantly amazed how many people treat this as a given – after all, they are credible to and trust themselves! However, this is, of course, not the exercise – the trust and credibility need to be established with other people.
 I worked with one client for over a year – gradually overcoming his tendency to present very good ideas badly. I presented him with a laminated card with the following printed on it:1. Train for marathon, 2. Enter marathon, 3. Pay entry fee, 4. Get revolver, 5. Load same, 6. Shoot self in foot, 7. Run marathon. After reading it every morning and evening for a month, it finally settled in and we were able to change his behavior patterns.  I believe that the ability to say what you mean is an indication that you know and understand the implications of what you mean to say. If you cannot do this, you probably do not understand what you mean.