Gaining Influence

Posted on August 22, 2013 | 19 comments

As a leader in several volunteer organizations, I have much experience in recruiting volunteers, empowering teams, creating internal and external partnerships, and developing a sense of ownership.

Because of this background, I was asked as a leadership coach give a short staff development workshop at a local counseling center. Within their context, the need is to build a client base.

In order to achieve this, the staff needed instruction on how to develop advocates and build partnerships.

Advocates who will speak from their experience are create an organic word of mouth in the community each counselor is attempting to influence. The difficulty in this is compounded for a counselor by the fact that people are reluctant to talk about their counseling experience. Often this comes with a sense of shame or weakness.

Beyond the individual level, the staff was looking to build partnerships with other organizations where they could provide their services.

How does one gain influence?

Speaking broadly, there are two main approaches to making big asks of people’s time and/or behavior.

1. Tell people WHAT you want done.

This is the most common approach. All of us do this with some degree of frequency. Most people employ this method exclusively.

The WHAT  is easy to verbalize because it is in the forefront of our mind.

The WHAT takes less energy to communicate.

The WHAT sometimes gives us the result we want, namely compliance.

Yet, it is rarely the most effective method for being influential.

It is asking for obedience and the response will be for the doer to simply get the job done – if they choose to do it at all.

Repeatedly telling people WHAT to do leads to burn out and resentment.

It is intrusive. It is not compelling.

It does not give the doer a sense of ownership, so it is easily forgotten. The alternative…

2. Tell people WHY something needs doing.

Why should anyone care? What is the purpose or belief that motivates this desired behavior or product? What is the vision?

Give them the reason you feel compelled. Tell them why the result is important or needed.

Then you can give them the WHAT.

Obviously, this takes more effort. More time is necessary to engage this process.

It requires that YOU have thought through the WHY.

But, it breeds sustainability. The WHY gives energy. It creates buy-in.

Because the belief becomes the belief of the advocate or partner.

They will then own the belief and thus invest in the outcome. Creating advocates and partners of their own.

Here is an exercise: write down WHY you are doing what you are doing? What is your compelling vision that people can join in?

I am a certified coach specializing in leadership, relationship, and identity. Services I offer are one-on-one coaching, speaking at organizations/churches, leadership workshops, and church retreats. For more info, click here to email me.

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  1. Great points – Our church is fighting an uphill battle because the older members refuse to change.

    • Change is tough. It is hard to live beyond your own self. God often has to prune in that situation.

  2. Hi There! I am coming over from TGIF.

    You sound like a very organized and effective leader. Your point about the ‘why’ of doing things is so important. I always like to know the reasons, and I try to explain them when I can. It helps people ‘buy in’ to the goal. Then, hopefully, everyone will work together for that common goal.

    Nice post!

    • Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

  3. Great points here about a tough aspect of leadership.
    Thanks for linking up at Essential Fridays. Blessings.
    Mel from Essential Thing Devotions

  4. Getting that tie-in for support is important and makes everyone happier in the long run. This is a great post!

    I found it on the Oh My Heartsie Hop.

  5. These are excellent points — especially the one about knowing the WHY before you decide to ask.

    Thank you for linking to Raising Imperfection.
    Please come back Friday to see if you were featured. 🙂

    (¸¤ Lanaya | xoxo

  6. Great points shared here. As someone who has been in church leadership for many years, the what’s and why’s are so important. I find the why more important than the what most often. Thank you for sharing and for linking up!

  7. Makes sense after reading point two, that the ‘what’ packs more punch after the ‘why’. I can see how people would be much happier doing a task when they know how important the outcome is, and how the completion of that task would be appreciated 🙂

  8. I’ve been struggling with this very question lately in a particular area where I lead. I want to see more ownership from my (for lack of a better word) coworkers but have come to the conclusion that it is wrong to tell them exactly what I want them to do. So I like how you’ve added insight into this dilemma for me in that I can tell them “why” it’s important. I know buy in is the key, but I still wonder if this will come across as pushy or demanding on my part. I’m talking about “volunteers” in the sense of coworkers by the way. Thanks for another thought-provoking topic and discussion, Scott!

  9. Thank you for sharing at “Tell Me a Story. I like your points to tell them what you want and then to tell them why it needs to be done.

  10. You are absolutely right! I need to employ this tactic more often with our sons. I find that they are much more receptive to ANYTHING if they know why it is important. It doesn’t necessarily have to be important to them. Knowing that it is important to me is equally motivating to them. Which just makes me work even harder at whatever it is. Why empowers, what does not.

    Thank you so much for sharing. God really does put what we need to see right in front of us.

  11. Why is a great word. It points to answers and lets us have input. What is an order word. What you need to do is this now… Why your contribution is so important to me?

    Thank you for sharing. I learned a lot.

  12. I bet you are a great leader. The blog post has many great leadership ideas. I enjoyed your post!

  13. Love all your points – help them understand WHY. Thanks for sharing at Tell Us Tuesday!

    Lauren @

  14. Great advice that also applies to parenting…especially as your child becomes older and can comprehend the “Why.”

  15. These are great points concerning leading others. For me, when I was delegating things to others in our homeless meal ministry, I often encouraged them by reminding them how grateful those they served were. This being the “why” of what they do. The servers always went the extra mile. Thank you for sharing this at WJIM. Have a blessed weekend.

  16. Great post!

    Thank you for linking up with Style Sessions!

    Lauren xx

  17. Thanks for the great points on leadership and purpose 🙂

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