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Is it really possible to lead by influence?

The most powerful influence you can have is not trying to influence someone

It’s a commonly discussed topic in Product Management realms that we should not lead from a position of authority, instead of through influence, indirectly, and by convincing others to do what we want or desire.

Let’s start with a simple question: Does your company’s CEO lead by influence or authority? You will probably say it for power, and the few who answer for influence, deep down, know that the hierarchical factor weighs a lot in this influence.

Well, if the CEO at the end of the day leads on authority, what makes you believe that as a PM, or the Mini-CEO fallacy, you will be able to lead by influence?

Shall we find out together? Let’s dot the i’s and cross the t’s together.

Sorry to be the one telling you this, but you’ll thank me later. You will realize pretty soon that you have zero ability to force your ideas and must rely on others to get where you want.

You did believe that you would be the min-CEO, right? Yeap, sorry to break that to you, no. You will not sit back dictating others and just watch things happen. My 0.002, read this other article first and return to this one. It’ll make more sense.

Some will say that it is getting others to do what you want without ordering. Others are an innate skill of some, and many will start the mistake of thinking that manipulation and influence are the same things. Let me share a secret, they are two sides of the same coin, and sometimes it isn’t easy to distinguish them.

I want to invite you to a brief reflection. Write your answers on a piece of paper to these two questions:

  1. Why do you want to influence others?
  2. What results do you believe you will achieve?

If your two answers are centered on you, you are willing to manipulate and not influence to get your way. It may be hard to read this, but remember, we are just human; we are not perfect.

I asked these questions to several PMs, and a few of the common answers were:

Why do you want to influence others?

  1. Because I want them to do what I believe is the right way.
  2. I don’t want it. But somethings a few powerless in a few decision making-process.
  3. I don’t have the patience to wait for them to get where I want.
  4. It’s power, and I want it.

What results do you believe you will achieve?

  1. To take my way.
  2. I did not think this through.
  3. Faster decision-making process.
  4. Power.

If you don’t want to cross the line between influence vs. manipulation, start by revisiting your initial intention. Over a few years of experience, experimentation my answer to the two questions are:

I don’t want to influence anyone, but sometimes I need it. It’s my tool to break walls and invite people to observe from a different perspective of the problem. I don’t need to be correct; I just want to explore together all the views to build the best possible solution.

In reality, the game is rigged, but the rules will be different depending in particular on three main factors:

It baggies the question, how can we take advantage of it to build great products? Let me start by one that is my personal first, public or private. It’s crucial to understand how its difference will impact your company’s power dynamics to map your stakeholders better.

Every company has two major triggers; actually, it’s the same for every single human being:

Public company

A public company strikes fear on everyone’s heart by its need for external and internal audits. Public companies are risk-averse because anything wrong could potentially damage the stock price.

So, fear and risk management will be your ally to help navigate those water and influence others. It looks weird, right? But, don’t get spooky; risk is not just damage; it’s also opportunities.

We should learn to translate a risk/opportunity into numbers, precisely money. I know you are thinking right now: “Easy to say than done.” Let me help you:

Your company is stuck on the growth rate:

  • You can’t cross the 15% a.a.
  • Your pricing has been outdated for the last two years
  • Your pricing model is demo->conversion.

Looks simple, right? Let’s take a look together:

  1. Is there any change for customer churn if we increase the price? If so, what is the limit to increase?
  2. How much old revenue are we willing to lose?
  3. Increasing the price will make it hard to convert new revenue? Why?
  4. How can you run an experiment to validate?
  5. Do you still believe it is simple to solve it?
  6. Do you need to know all the answers? NOoooo.

Private company

Here it is less complex to identify the triggers; however, navigating and influencing is way more complicated.

Fear and love at a private company are based on relationships and not all relationships, but a few key ones:

But what about my team and peers? Great question; first of all: You DON’T have a team; you are one more member of a team. Respect and treat all of them as your equal, and you will be fine.

Private-held companies are usually built on a family business model; trust is the keyword. So, if you want to be heard, you need to build your trust, and you ask yourselves: how can I influence others if they don’t trust me?

You don’t. You have to build trust first, and it takes time. It’s not an easy task. Start by mapping your stakeholders understand what ticky them (love or pain).

Pro-tip: Don’t run away from conflict of ideas, but if yours is not the final decision, at least put on your poker face and say that even if you disagree 100%, you are ready to commit 100% to the decision. Trust and transparency will get you there.

Eventually, you will reach the point that people will reach out to you and genuinely ask for your opinion. That’s is the point where you will know that you are ready to influence others.

I had great mentors and even more significant failures over the years to teach me that:

The most powerful influence you can have is not trying to influence someone.

Influencing others means helping them open their mind and hearts to different beliefs, but to get there, I first had to learn how to be genuinely open to listen and feel what the other has to say to me.

When people believe you are open to their suggestions and think they’ve been heard, they will work harder. That is the power of listening. Simply listening to others makes them feel empowered, even if you don’t accept their suggestions.

Back to Machiavelli and beyond: As a leader, would you rather be lovable or fearful?

I genuinely hope you have learned something new today, and I’m looking forward to meeting you again in the following article.

Originally published at https://taric.substack.com on February 22, 2022.

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Taric Andrade

Taric Andrade

Entrepreneurial minded, passionate for tech, driven by intellectual curiosity — curating knowledge to solve problems and create change.

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