Disciplined Leadership

Disciplined Leadership

True leaders are made, not just born

by Nicholas Dungan

Leadership takes work. To be sure, some individuals come into this world with qualities and talents that suit them well for future leadership: charisma, articulateness, penetrating insight, an impressive presence. But just as is the case for an athlete or an artist, these natural gifts will be of little use if they are not exercised, trained and sustained. Discipline is required both to develop leadership initially and to maintain it thereafter.


For that discipline to be made manifest and to prove effective, one must recognise the basic requirements and core components of true leadership. These are: self-possession, integrity and vision.


Self-possession is more than social poise
The term ‘self-possession’ often refers to not losing one’s cool in public or in social circumstances, but the self-possession required of a leader or future leader goes much further than that and incorporates the entire possession of oneself from a physical, intellectual and spiritual as well as a social perspective.


The leader’s physical self-possession results not only from self-restraint but from self-improvement. Azorín, in the opening words of El Político, says ‘The primary requirement of a statesman is physical strength. His body must be healthy and strong.’ — and in our time this is obviously a truth universally acknowledged as being equally applicable to female and male leaders alike. Regular challenging physical exercise and the practice of one or more competitive sports provide a constant stimulus and testing of the self; if performed in a strenuous enough fashion, they move the leader or future leader quite literally outside her or his comfort zone, enabling them to withstand discomfort and even pain. They expand the leader’s appreciation of her or his own capabilities and they contribute to the leader’s sense of accomplishment. In a similar but contrasting way, the self-discipline that is necessary to eat and drink sparingly, to maintain optimum weight as well as overall fitness, is conducive both to a sense of self-control and to an image of power and style.


Intellectual self-possession involves thinking about how well we are thinking, about questioning one’s assumptions, recognising that one does not have all the answers. The consequence of intellectual self-possession is an unquenchable thirst for lifelong learning, an insatiable appetite for intelligence — not just information — which drives the leader or future leader not only towards contemporary best thinking but chiefly to the wisdom of the ages contained in lessons from history, philosophy and mind-expanding fiction. Adding a creative activity — music, writing, photography, art — diverts the leader’s attention away from the weighty issues of the day, as Winston Churchill describes so delightfully in his charming essay ‘Painting as a Pastime’, and offers an outlet that expands the leader’s scope of sensitivity and discernment.


Spiritual self-possession is encouraged through the study of philosophy, the recognition of the lessons of the great religions and the leader’s own capacity for contemplation and meditation.


Thus equipped with hard-earned self-possession, the leader or future leader is prepared to interact with others. She or he will be economical with words, naturally inclined to listen, comfortable with silence. She or he will project serenity, indifference to display, good humour — and a sense of humour — even, indeed especially, in adversity. Such outward and visible signs of an inward and individual equilibrium create an aura of respect and even mystery around the leader, which the leader will know how to use to her or his advantage when the time is ripe.


Integrity is holistic
In everyday parlance, integrity signifies honesty, uprightness, ethical probity, fair dealing. The word derives from the Latin integer which etymologically means ‘un-touched’ and therefore untainted or pure. We can and should expect disciplined leaders to display integrity of this kind.


But integer also means ‘whole’, ‘complete’, ‘entire’. In English, ‘integrity’ has somewhat lost this signification, yet in this broader, more encompassing construction, integrity applies acutely well to leaders and future leaders. Beyond good behaviour, they must demonstrate unimpeachable character, the willingness to accept responsibility, the ability to incur risks, the courage to face danger, the resolve to carry on regardless, the implacability to endure contumely, the steadfastness to steer through turbulence, tempests and turmoil. We have every right to hold our leaders to this standard of wholeness.


Vision respects reality
Visionary leaders provide not just a policy but a purpose.They set higher goals than their own ambitions or the attainment of empty or easy gains. They curve their conception above the here and now. They designate a destination that arches beyond time and place. They offer to their followers both an aspiration to achieve and the inspiration to believe that their purpose is valid and that it is veritable. Far from promising what they cannot deliver, or chasing an impossible dream, they anchor their judgements in a sense of reality that respects the facts, calculates the contingencies and is infused with the awareness of the all-too-human hopes and fears of their followers.

True leaders will be followed
Having developed and maintained these essential qualities of leadership — self-possession, integrity and vision — how can a leader be sure of winning followers? One cannot be a leader if there is noone there to be led. The answer lies in the effect the leader produces upon others: the essential effect of true leadership is the empowerment of others. From that empowerment will flow those followers’ conviction that the leader is worthy of their trust, their faith and their destiny.

Authentic Influence

Authentic Influence

Thinking it through before acting upon it

by Nicholas Dungan

Before we attempt to exercise influence, we ought to analyse what we mean by influence and what the meaning of that influence implies.


First and foremost, if we are decent people seeking to use our influence towards benificent ends, the influence we wish to exercise must be authentic: genuine, heartfelt, inspired by good will and intended to create good will. To be authentic, such influence must be both legitimate on the part of the person exercising influence and voluntary on the part of the person being influenced.


To be legitimate, the influence we wish to exercise must be ethical in its ends and in its means. This influence does not allow for anything dubious, unseemly or illegal, nor even slightly suspect, a bit dodgy, disingenuous: nothing underhanded, no cutting corners, not two-faced.


Authentic influence must also be voluntary on the part of the person being influenced. The art of persuasion is just that: the ability to inspire others to act in the way that we desire them to act, but based on the consent, the acquiescence, even the enthusiasm of those others.


For influence to be voluntary, there is one aspect that must be missing: fear. Influence exercised by creating anxiety, or making threats, or using intimidation, is negative influence. This putrid sort of influence will be resented by others and will last only until they can find a way to avoid it or reject it or overcome it.


The triangulation of trust
Once we have determined that the influence we wish to cultivate must be authentic, legitimate and voluntary, then we can examine the components which make up authentic influence. These components are the truth, the sense of reality and awareness of ‘the other’. Together they constitute a triangle that inspires trust on the part of those whom we wish to influence.


The value of the truth should be obvious, but in our day and age sometimes seems to be under threat. Yet the apprehension that we live in a ‘post-truth’ era of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ actually serves to make the truth more valuable, not less. All philosophies and all religions have always emphasised the centrality of the truth. The Buddha said: ‘Three things can not hide for long: the Moon, the Sun and the Truth.’ Respecting the truth requires courage and character. And if we deviate from the truth, our influence will not last long, nor be effective, nor be benificent, because
others will not trust us.


If the opposite of the truth is falsehood, the opposite of the sense of reality is denial, or delusion. The eminent philosopher Bertrand Russell, when asked for his advice to future generations, gave this guidance on how to confront situations: ask yourself first ‘What are the facts?’. If we attempt to influence others based on illusion, or an idealised version of reality, or an artificial intellectual construct, then, even if we are deemed ethical and truthful by those others, we will still be written off as dreamers disconnected from the real world, and we will fail to exercise our influence.


The third side of the triangle of trust, along with the truth and the sense of reality, is awareness of ‘the other’. We can try to influence all we want, but without the other, there is nobody to receive our influence. Even more than this, the way we design and project and gauge our influence should be largely a function of who the other is, how we judge her or his receptivity, what we think her or his sensitivities are that will allow our influence to be appreciated, and received voluntarily. This applies just as much, indeed more, when ‘the other’ is actually several, or many, others.


Ancient wisdom, modern intelligence
We should not be surprised to learn that the art of authentic influence which we think we have unearthed for ourselves was actually articulated long ago. Aristotle, in his Rhetoric, identified three modes of the art of persuasion: ethos, logos and pathos.


• Ethos applies to the speaker and the speaker’s ethics and reputation. Ethos requires the truth.
• Logos means the message, the substance of the influence. Logos requires the sense of reality.
• Pathos refers to the emotions through which our audience receives our influence. Pathos requires awareness of the other.

ethoslogospathos
the truththe sense of realitythe other
influence / leadermessage / substanceemotions / soft skills

Professional Empowerment

Professional Empowerment

Success comes through the science of soft skills

by Nicholas Dungan

Professionals do not succeed just by doing their jobs. They succeed by how they do their jobs.


Career success exemplifies the 80-20 rule. Fully 80 per cent of the ability to succeed in one’s working life depends on a mere 20 per cent of what one does. You have to do the 80 per cent just to get your job done, but that constitutes only 20 per cent of the success of your career. The other 80 per cent of success depends on the remaining 20 per cent of time and effort, and that key 20 per cent concerns largely the science of soft skills.


The value of soft skills
Professionals and executives, from mid-career to CEO level, need to enhance their leadership and influence skills, for their own benefit in managing their work and their careers, and for the benefit of the organisations they serve. Developing their soft skills helps to reinforce these professionals’ management expertise and sensibilities and, in so doing, serves to magnify these professionals’ effectiveness within their organisations and beyond.


Process of a soft skills programme
In large organisations, when select groups of professionals are drawn from different disciplines, specialisations and geographies, working together on soft skills — under the tutelage of an experienced advisor — serves to increase collegiality among the professionals and intensify their shared culture by offering them the opportunity to interact with each other and to create joint approaches to practical, stimulating, inspirational issues beyond their daily responsibilities.


Similarly, individual senior managers, C-suite executives and CEOs themselves can benefit from a personalised, bespoke soft-skills awareness programme, again under the tutelage of an experienced advisor. Concentrating on soft skills helps to position these professionals as influencers both within their organisations and in their broader business communities and ecosystems.


Although a soft skills programme can take many forms, especially when tailored to the specific requirements of an individual or group, it is helpful to think of it in four movements.


First Movement: Understanding influence and leadership
• Without this introductory phase, the deployment of soft skills is devoid of adequate context.


Second Movement: Exercising influence and leadership — skills and techniques
• This movement focuses on work I need to do on myself to achieve leadership and influence.


Third Movement: Exercising influence and leadership in organisations and society
• This movement examines how to deploy my leadership and influence capabilities.


Fourth Movement: You the influencer and leader
• And this final movement pulls together the strands of who I am as a leader and influencer.


First Movement: Understanding influence and leadership
• What do we mean by ‘influence’?
• The art of authentic influence
• What’s the purpose of influence?
• Influence and awareness
• Influence and leadership are not the same
• The art of authentic leadership
• The dilemma of ‘it depends’
• Five forms of influence
• Main methods of influence
• Benefits of a strategy of influence


Second Movement: Exercising influence and leadership — skills and techniques
• How to shine with no time to prepare
• How to read a room
• How to own a room
• How to deal with the media
• The challenge of social media
• How to write a speech
• How to deliver a speech
• How to write an article in 1/2 hour
• Talking and listening
• Zooming


Third Movement: Exercising influence and leadership in organisations and society
• What are my business ecosystems?
• Working within organisations and groups
• Authority vs example
• Managing up, down and sideways
• Concepts of engagement
• Value of engagement
• Strategies of engagement
• Techniques of engagement
• Negotiation
• Business development


Fourth Movement: You the influencer
• Creating a strategy of influence
• Building networks of influence
• Value or vanity of networking
• Are you a hedgehog or a fox?
• Managing yourself
• Becoming your own persona
• Choices: you, your company, the client
• Representing your organisation
• The value of awareness
• Benefits of a strategy of influence redux


Methodology of a soft skills programme

The topics in such a soft skills programme should be covered through a Socratic approach. The advisor poses a scenario, or mini-case study, or problem. Contained within these questions — and therefore within the answers to the questions and within the subsequent discussion — are the topics of influence and leadership embedded in that approach to soft skills. The advisor should also provide stimulating examples, summaries of content and positive feedback.

Effective Strategy

Effective Strategy

Precision, then process

by Nicholas Dungan

Strategy consists of a clear, realistic goal and a clear, realistic path to that goal. That is all. Anything else is not strategy. Dreams or vague objectives do not constitute strategy: ‘increase market share’, ‘make the world a better habitat’, ‘be the best’ may be inspirational or aspirational mottos, but they are not strategy. They do not specify a clear, realistic goal nor a clear, realistic path to that goal.


Effective strategy depends on one precondition — precision — and thereupon unfolds in five movements which constitute the essential direction of the strategic process.

The precondition of precision requires deciding the scope and purpose of the strategy. Is it to increase market share? If so by how much, when, in which markets, through what means? Does it apply to a specific service or product of the enterprise, or a given geographic market or market segment? Is it primarily driven by customer needs, competitive pressure, technological change? Or is it ‘grand strategy’, comprising all the strategic elements germane to the organisation over the long term? For a nation, a company or any other form of societal organisation, the first imperative of strategy is to debate and define in precise terms what kind of strategy is being contemplated, what it is meant to achieve, what it is for.


Once this precondition of precision has been satisfied — and the discussion and analysis needed to meet the preconditon are highly valuable exercises in and of themselves — then the process of strategy with its five main movements can begin. We refer to these as movements, not stages or steps, because, like the movements of a symphony, they fit together, are intertwined and succeed each other perhaps in different tempos and timbres but always with a similar leitmotiv, which is that the whole strategic process serves the precise strategic purpose.


The five movements are:
• assessment: where we are today
• objectives: where we want to go
• action plan: how we are going to get there
• implementation: putting the plan into practice
• impact: evaluating how well we have done.


These movements encompass the following components.


1 Assessment
• Assemble a multi-disciplinary team from within the organisation with clear top-level commitment.
• Review all available sources of applicable strategic intelligence within the organisation.
• Examine the organisation’s strategic performance today, benchmark it against competitors.
• Score the organisation vis-à-vis best-practices strategic thinking on the strategic topic selected.
• Deliverable: appraisal and analysis together with concrete, detailed, practical recommendations.


2 Objectives
• Achieve clarity and consistency on the alignment of the organisation’s purpose and strategy.
• Enumerate and prioritise the stakeholders, internal and external, of the organisation’s strategy.
• Construct transformation maps of the cross-cutting thematics, types of expertise to deploy.
• Examine sub-set strands concerning distinct business lines, geographies, other variations.
• Deliverable: clarity and consensus on this strategy’s desired outcomes and desired impact.


3 Action Plan
• Compose a playbook to apply to all organisation strategy experts, spokespersons, practitioners.
• Plan with this organisation team all priority action items: content, format, outreach.
• Determine optimal sequencing and scheduling of the strategy’s action items.
• Design implementation scenarios by all organisation representatives with CRM-type follow-up.
• Deliverable: written and oral presentations to the organisation’s management and governance.


4 Implementation
• Designate an in-house task force within the organisation to centralise and manage the strategy.
• Execute a phased multi-stakeholder action plan involving relevant organisation representatives.
• Capitalise on existing relationships to capture the full range of multi-stakeholder networks.
• Produce multi-platform output, outreach; monitor roll-out based on CRM methodology.
• Deliverable: multi-year strategic plan translated into focused, measurable action steps.


5 Impact
• Establish clear, timed results and measurement criteria across the range of strategy initiatives.
• Set specific guidelines to determine desired quantitative and qualitative impact of strategic goals.
• Employ professional external evaluation methods (eg surveys) for objective impact assessment.
• Utilise the impact evaluation to critique assessment, objectives, action plan and implementation.
• Deliverable: analysis of performance, recommendations on course corrections for the future.


Such a complete strategic exercise can take place over several months or several years and, indeed, at the end of the final movement, impact, should in principle be renewed da capo. It is of course possible — and in most organisations will probably be deemed more practical — to take one step at a time and thus to begin with the precondition of precision, defining the strategy, and then a piece of the first movement, assessment, in a preliminary and limited fashion, after which the organisation and its decision-makers can determine the most effectual way forward.

The Dozen Dogmas

The Fundamentals for Projecting Leadership

  1. When dealing with words, start with the metrics.
  2. Learn to speak in less than one minute and begin with your conclusion.
  3. Always stay within the time.
  4. Never talk about the time.
  5. Do not talk about your outline.
  6. Use fewer words to convey more meaning.
  7. Avoid connecting words and phrases.
  8. Speak slowly; pause and pause again: the audience will fill in the blanks.
  9. Never speak when others are speaking.
  10. Electronics require the same extreme caution as children and animals on stage.
  11. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse: everything is beautiful at the ballet.
  12. Analysis, not opinion; facts and figures to support the analysis.

Corporate Citizenship

Corporate Citizenship

Purpose aligned with profit

by Nicholas Dungan and Antonio de Lecea

Major business firms need to prepare now for a sea-change in the way they fit in global society. Global firms — multinational enterprises, financial institutions, professional services firms — will henceforth be compelled to prove, convincingly and continuously, their commitment and their conduct as exemplary global citizens.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR), environmental-social-governance criteria (ESG) and even ‘purpose’ as presently expressed will soon be replaced by a more holistic, broad-based concept of corporate citizenship. As a consequence, global business firms will be held to a higher standard of societal behaviour by the whole range of their stakeholders: shareholders of course but also employees, customers, suppliers, the media, government, regulators, NGOs and the public will judge companies by their contribution to society as much as by their business performance.


Building upon CSR, ESG and ‘purpose’
The definition of CSR varies from firm to firm amongst stakeholders, reflecting each one’s approaches and values. It is often vulnerable to greenwashing and virtue signalling, with companies engaging in self-serving corporate messaging and gaining no credibility from that.

ESG is a more structured, pluridimensional approach to assess a company’s behaviour. It is mostly used by investors to minimise the reputational risk of being perceived as financing companies that create significant collateral damage to others or to society at large. But ESG still varies from one institutional investor to another, although initiatives are ongoing to bring some consistency. ESG is susceptible to becoming too much of a box-ticking exercise, failing to take a broad-based, meaningful, approach. In particular, while the ‘E’ and the ‘G’ can operate defensibly on the basis of relatively uniform criteria, the scope of ’S’ remains more exposed to continuing debate. And like CSR, ESG is also vulnerable to greenwashing.

The concept of purpose has sometimes been imposed on companies without their actually being prepared for it. Too often purpose is not much more than a new label on a pre-existing organisation, which may then be perceived as a smokescreen. Companies actually need to seek true, meaningful purpose by asking ‘What is, or can be, our benefit to society and, from there, what business should we be in?’ They must also consider ‘Are we destroying value elsewhere as we operate to achieve our purpose and can we create value along that dimension?’


The good citizen
Identifying purpose and (re)orienting the business towards it is not easy but it is one fountainhead of corporate citizenship. The other is identifying and avoiding harmful side effects to society. Since Antiquity, everyone knows how to distinguish a good citizen from a bad citizen. To quote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on John Rawls: ‘Reasonable citizens have the capacity to abide by fair terms of cooperation, even at the expense of their own interests.’


Purpose and financial performance enhance each other
True purpose and no harm to society need not be at the expense of shareholders’ own interests. As Colin Mayer, Professor at Oxford University, puts it: ‘The purpose of business is “to produce profitable solutions to the problems of people and planet, and not to profit from producing problems for people and planet”. In the process, business produces profits.’

Achieving purpose as good corporate citizens and achieving sustainable financial performance can be and should be mutually reinforcing, but only so long as they derive from sound strategic thinking and planning. They should also be recognised as legitimate by the broadest possible range of stakeholders.

In order to pursue — and in order to prove, convincingly and continuously — their commitment to corporate citizenship, global firms will therefore increasingly be required to demonstrate the quality of their strategic thinking, over and above their business performance. This is a paramount implication of corporate citizenship.


Requirements of corporate-citizenship leadership
Thus it is that companies can become leaders in their field of corporate-citizenship expertise. They can become trusted sources to whom others turn for insight. Essential components of corporate-citizenship leadership are education and engagement. Corporate-citizenship leaders help others understand complex issues and the implications and impacts of those issues, increasing the empowerment of those who follow, listen to, and learn from the leader. Similarly, following and listening other stakeholders, and learning from them, ensures continued relevance of purpose, do-no-harm criteria and means.

Corporate-citizenship leadership is not about mere messaging: it is about expertise, trust, recognised authority. It is not just about communication: it is about big-picture, long-term, blue-sky thinking first, then about how that thinking translates realistically into practice. The usual corporate messages — the company just talking about itself — rarely contribute to corporate-citizenship leadership and often detract from it: they may in fact erode brand equity if deployed on their own.

The thinking required to underpin corporate citizenship must be global and it must be strategic in order for the firm to be recognised as a corporate-citizenship leader in its field:
global: the breadth and depth of thinking must be broad, address multi-stakeholder relationships from a pluri-disciplinary platform and extend beyond comfortable close-to-home geographies;
strategic: the thinking must focus on major long-term issues facing the firm, its industry or profession and all societal stakeholders;
leadership: the firm achieves — and then must maintain — its status as a multi-stakeholder corporate-citizenship reference regarding the fundamental strategic issues of its business, industry or professional sector within the widest definition of global society.

Despite increasingly heightened awareness, global firms — industrial, financial, services — have yet to come fully to terms with the imperative for broad-based corporate citizenship. All leading global business firms need to review their business models. And they need to prove to society their ability to think and act globally and strategically in order to remain global leaders.

Poised on the Perilous Point

POSITION PAPER

Poised on the Perilous Point

The strategic is as urgent as the urgent

by Nicholas Dungan

June 2020

Here, then, at home, by no more storms distrest,
Folding laborious hands we sit, wings furled;
Here in close perfume lies the rose-leaf curled,

Here the sun stands and knows not east nor west,
Here no tide runs; we have come, last and best,
From the wide zone through dizzying circles hurled,
To that still centre where the spinning world
Sleeps on its axis, to the heart of rest.

Lay on thy whips, O Love, that we upright,
Poised on the perilous point, in no lax bed
May sleep, as tension at the verberant core
Of music sleeps; for, if thou spare to smite,

Staggering, we stoop, stooping, fall dumb and dead,
And, dying so, sleep our sweet sleep no more.

In Gaudy Night, the exquisite novel by Dorothy L. Sayers published in 1935, Harriet Vane, a mystery writer and the book’s protagonist, returns to Oxford, where she writes the first eight-line stanza of this sonnet, a description of the peacefulness of her alma mater but equally a billet doux for Lord Peter Wimsey, Sayers’s aristocratic detective hero. Discovering the opening stanza, Wimsey pens the subsequent sestet and so completes the sonnet, but in contrapuntal mode, rejecting the ‘still centre’ in favour of an upright, activist position: ‘poised on the perilous point’.

There is a widespread conviction in the world today that we are poised on the perilous point of a human revolution.

This is manifested in an eerie feeling throughout the globe that all of humanity is somehow at a tipping point, an inflection point, poised on the perilous point between success and failure—faced with an opportunity, by adopting radically different behaviours towards each other and towards our habitat, to thrive as a united species, lest, through ignorance or division, ‘Staggering, we stoop, stooping, fall dumb and dead’.

This human revolution is many phenomena at once: spiritual and humanistic but also political and economic.

The spiritual revolution comprises both stanzas of the sonnet: the desire for inner peace combined with a robust call to action. This duality of serenity and determination finds expression also in a recent video (in which the cellist is Isabelle Dungan of CogitoPraxis). We need both: contemplation and action, both cogito and πρᾶξις.

The humanistic revolution arises from the shared human experiences, one on top of the other, of the Covid19 pandemic and the worldwide movement for racial justice. These experiences, far from separate or distinct, are intimately connected. Analysts, thinkers and leaders from around the world agree that the future must be more humanistic.

The political revolution is made plain in the desire on the part of world leaders to unite to support positive change. This resolve was expressed in the exceptional webinar organized by the World Economic Forum arguing for a ‘Great Reset’ of the world and announcing that this will be the theme of the Davos meeting in January 2021. (In an upcoming position paper, CogitoPraxis will examine the range of stakeholders who need to be drawn into such a reset, and how to attract them.) To be sure, not all the world’s political leaders, or business or other leaders, subscribe to the tenets of stakeholder capitalism. Some holdouts look to be trapped in old ways of thinking that privilege hostile rivalry, raw competition and Darwinian destruction over cooperation, collaboration and consensus. But the winds of change are blowing against them.

The economic revolution will test the mettle of business and financial leaders everywhere. In his opening remarks of the Great Reset webinar, the Prince of Wales stressed that there has never been a time when the involvement of, and commitment from, the private sector has been more crucial. We have seen business and financial leaders such as Jamie Dimon of J P Morgan speak out against racism. In France, for example, Pierre-André de Chalendar, CEO of Saint-Gobain, and Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, chairman of Engie, support the conviction, as do chief executives from around the world, that the Covid19 crisis can serve as a model for facing climate change and enhancing sustainability.

The challenge for everyone—from the loftiest decision-makers to every single ordinary citizen in her or his daily life—will consist of one choice: whether to prioritise the long term over the short term, the fundamental over the circumstantial, the strategic over the urgent. For, as the opportunity and the hope of this human revolution make plain, the strategic is at least as urgent as the urgent.

Main Methods of Influence

POSITION PAPER

Main Methods of Influence

‘By indirections find directions out’

by Nicholas Dungan

The art of influence ought to be authentic1. This science of soft skills can be exercised in several different forms2. And the deployment of influence can make use of a number of identifiable methods.

Give it to them straight: targeting the consumer

Advertising is the most obvious method of attempting to exercise influence. Traditionally, whether in print, on radio or on television, advertising, with more or less directness, sent a message to the consumer: buy this product. In our own day, on the internet, advertising has become more subtle and, some would argue, more sinister, such as in the ability to manipulate democratic processes. On Facebook or Twitter, on Instagram, and even to some degree, in a more corporate context, on LinkedIn, advertising is blended into the other, reputedly credible content we consume—and is far more pervasive and sophisticated than old-fashioned product placement in the cinema, such as James Bond’s Omega wristwatch.

In addition, advertising has become person-to-person, not just business-to-consumer. Previously, methods of advertising passed through ‘creative’ agencies, as depicted in Mad Men. Today, you can advertise yourself or your product or your service all by yourself, on social media. But the fact remains that you are often targeting your audience directly: hear my message, open my post, like my Tweet.

The success or failure of this direct method of influence is fairly binary: it works or it doesn’t.

Professionalising the process: public relations

Communications firms, such as Brunswick, Edelman, Hill+Knowlton Strategies and a host of other big and small companies, specialise in crafting and conveying messages on behalf of their clients. In the earlier, simpler form of public relations, the PR agency shaped the client’s message and sought to sell it to the mainstream media. Nowadays, the range of services of the PR firms has broadened, the type of outlets that they aim for has become vastly more varied and the multiplicity of audiences which they target has increased.

PR is still about selling a message, but with greater professional expertise and, when done well, with less uncertainty, with at least some ability to measure the actual impact of the effort.

Cultivating the decision-makers: lobbying and advocacy

Advocacy takes advertising and PR to a different dimension. If advertising seems rather scattered and PR has a fairly elusive result, advocacy—particularly in the form of corporate lobbying—is more focused in its message and its targeting, and more precise in determining its outcome.

Advocacy generally and lobbying specifically are aimed at government decision-makers—whether legislators, regulators or other administrative officials—in whose decisions the lobbyists and their clients have a direct stake. Many lobbyists are lawyers with long experience in cultivating the decision-makers and even drafting the legislation or regulations their clients desire. Most of these clients are multinational enterprises whether in pharmaceuticals or other industries, or in banking, insurance or other financial services. The clients know what they want, the lobbyists know who to target and it is easy to measure success: did the client get the results it was after from that target.

Other forms of advocacy are harder to gauge, such as issue-based environmental advocacy, or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) advocating for social justice or human rights. But the target audiences generally still consist of persons in authority.

Don’t listen to me, listen to them

Endorsement is an especially effective form of influence. If I boast of my abilities, or promote my organisation’s products, or advocate for my favourite causes, you will believe me only so far. If, on the other hand, I can produce satisfied customers, admiring colleagues or convincing evidence provided by a (supposedly) independent third party, particularly by recognised experts, that endorsement will increase my influence precisely because I am not attempting to exercise that influence myself. This is a strategy of indirect approach.

‘Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember.’ –Benjamin Franklin

By far the most lasting method of influence is education. We need to recognise that education is not telling, it is teaching. The Socratic method, whereby the teacher inspires the student to learn on her or his own,is far more effective than an hour-long monologue lecture. We all remember our best professors; and we remember not just what they taught us, but that it was they who taught us.

Whether using advertising, or public relations, or advocacy, or endorsement, the most enduring and appealing method of influence is to educate our target audience, to impart new ways of thinking and communicate new knowledge and wisdom to ‘the other’ whom we are seeking to influence. That ‘other’ will normally react with appreciation and admiration.


  1. See CogitoPraxis position paper, ‘The Art of Authentic Influence’.
  2. See CogitoPraxis position paper, ‘Five Forms of Influence’.

Benefits of CogitoPraxis Advice

These benefits apply to organisations and to individuals

Awareness

  • enhanced self-awareness
  • increased awareness of ‘the other’ 
  • heightened situational awareness

Understanding

  • nature and sources of influence
  • forms of influence
  • methods of influence

Skills

  • writing
  • speaking
  • media

Techniques

  • how to be persuasive
  • how to be impressive
  • how to be authoritative

Adaptability

  • influence and gender
  • influence and example 
  • influence and authority

Confidence

  • preparedness 
  • flexibility
  • serenity

Goals

  • audiences
  • purposes
  • effectiveness

Empowerment

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Five Forms of Influence

POSITION PAPER

Five forms of Influence

To be and not to be—and to do and not to do

by Nicholas Dungan

The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, was among the first to demonstrate that the art of persuasion is something that can be taught, and learned. ‘Aristotle sought to grasp the very roots of persuasion itself, which required him to ponder the nature of character and emotion…. Thus persuasiveness becomes for the first time a fully systematic and even scientific exercise; it can indeed be taught, but only by a deep grasp of some of the central features of human nature.’1

This art of persuasion is the science of soft skills, the art of influence. We are of course talking of authentic influence, which is both legitimate on the part of the person exercising influence and voluntary on the part of the person being influenced (see the CogitoPraxis position paper ‘The Art of Authentic Influence’).

Within this science of soft skills, five forms of influence stand out: diplomacy, seduction, language, silence and drama.

Diplomacy

Professional diplomacy—the practice of relations between states—includes representation, negotiation and administration. In everyday parlance, diplomacy refers principally to the representational aspect, reaching out to ‘the other’. In one classic text, aptly entitled Diplomacy, by Harold Nicolson, the author writes: ‘These, then, are the qualities of my ideal diplomatist. Truth, accuracy, calm, patience, good temper, modesty and loyalty. … But, the reader may object, you have forgotten intelligence, knowledge, discernment, prudence, hospitality, charm, industry, courage and even tact. I have not forgotten them. I have taken them for granted.’2 If we wish to exercise influence by reaching out to the other, we could do worse than to listen to Nicolson.

Seduction

Virtually the opposite of reaching out to the other, seduction implies attracting the other to us. We work to make ourselves as appealing as possible, then do as little as possible to project that appeal. Seduction incorporates a strong component of mystery and is an especially powerful form of influence because we seek to occupy the imagination of the other. But seduction can backfire if no other comes to us. We will be disappointed, and perhaps look extremely foolish, if nothing happens. Seduction can be potent, and dangerous.

Language

Words, spoken and written, are the most obvious form of influence. This is why Aristotle’s study on the art of persuasion is called Rhetoric. We use words every day, all the time. But words are not neutral. Words have consequences. The key to using words is awareness: self-awareness, awareness of the other, situational awareness. Everything we say, and especially how we say it, reflects on us. As George Bernard Shaw wrote in his introduction to Pygmalion: ‘It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him.’3 We will all be judged by the clarity with which we express ourselves. The respect we show for language is the respect we show for others and they will be keenly sensitive to that.

Silence

Just as seduction is a seemingly passive form of influence compared to diplomacy, so silence is a seemingly passive form of influence compared to language. Silence, like seduction, incorporates a strong component of mystery and seeks to occupy the imagination of the other. Charles de Gaulle, in his masterpiece on leadership, Le Fil de l’épée, states: ‘Nothing reinforces authority better than silence’.4 Silence is a strong form of influence because the other doesn’t know what we are thinking; but, like seduction, it is dangerous, because we also do not know what the other is thinking.

Drama

Influence through drama, in the broadest sense, is influence through spectacle, theatricality, putting on a show. As William Shakespeare wrote: ‘All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players; / They have their exits and their entrances, / And one man in his time plays many parts.’5 The use of drama in exercising influence need not be confined to royal weddings and stirring parades. We must pay attention to appearances in our everyday lives, even to our Zoom backdrop, for the impression we create—how we play the part of ourselves—will determine how we are perceived, and how effective our influence will be.

  1. H. C. Lawson-Tancred. Introduction to Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric. London: Penguin Books.1991. p. 8 
  2. Harold Nicolson. Diplomacy. London: Oxford University Press. 1939, p. 126.
  3. George Bernard Shaw. Introduction to Pygmalion. London. 1912.
  4. Charles de Gaulle. Le Fil de l’épée. Paris: Éditions Berger-Levrault. 1944. Quotation from new edition 2010. Éditions Perrin. p.77.5 
  5. William Shakespeare. As You Like It. Act II, scene vii.