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Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Six Channels of Influence: How to Navigate Them Effectively

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Guest post by Willy Steiner

The human being is a self-propelled automaton entirely under the control of external influences. Willful and predetermined though they appear, his actions are governed not from within, but from without. He is like a float tossed about by the waves of a turbulent sea.” – Nikola Tesla

Humans are very complex organisms. We are the sum of the various influences of our lives – family, educational, religious, social, national and organizational. I had a client who worked quite a few years in a top-down, command-and-control type of environment. When his boss concurred with his recommendations, that seal of approval, that authority, was all he needed to influence things. When I got to know him he had moved to another organization and proceeded to start with buy-in from his boss prior to the implementation of various solutions. But he got significant cultural resistance because this was not a command-and-control type of environment. He had to work hard developing relationships to get buy-in and reduce resistance. Once we appreciated the differences in influence style between the different organizations, I was very proud to see how my client worked hard to adapt to this new model of influence in the new organization.

The question is how do we discern what different patterns of influence are in an organization to better prepare ourselves to negotiate and make an impact? In their recent book The Art of Woo* authors G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa state there are 6 Channels of Influence in any organization. They are:

  1. AUTHORITY: Your tendency to use moves based upon authority. This is still the most commonly used in organizations.
  2. RATIONALITY: This represents your tendency to rely upon data-oriented reasons to persuade. It is historically the second most common persuasion styles.
  3. VISION: When you persuade others based on shared purposes, hopes, fears or dreams, you are squarely in this role.
  4. RELATIONSHIPS: You use one on one connections with others and leverages the fact that people are much more inclined to say “yes” to people they know and like.
  5. INTERESTS: This denotes how much you refer explicitly to interests, needs and incentives as a mode for getting things done.
  6. POLITICS: All organizations are political. People with high scores in this area tend to pay attention to the social networks that channel power and influence, know how to form coalitions within those networks and realize the importance of gaining access to key decision makers. Brokering power like this is neither inherently good nor evil as an organizational activity.

I used a short survey from The Art of Woo (pp. 249-257) to help a group of clients, all senior technical contributors in a national cable organization, discern what the differences between their personal channels of influence preferences were and those of the organization. The survey results indicated the organizational preferences were for:

  • Politics – #1
  • Rationality – #3
  • Authority – #6

The survey results indicated the personal preferences were for:

  • Rationality – #1
  • Authority – #3
  • Politics – #5

The disdain for Politics and the personal preference for Rationality is easy to understand from 11 highly competent and experienced technical professionals.   Authority came in #3 because they desired to be able to have others comply with their recommendations just because they had the authority to command it, not as an actual preference but because of their frustration with the current organizational realities. They were clearly uncomfortable with the horse trading of politics and the suboptimal technical solutions it produced, but they recognized that they needed to adapt their approaches to be more effective. We had a very interesting session about the need to identify and adapt to these organizational realities.

If you are seeking to enhance your influence in your organization or group, you must first get a sense of what channels of influence work best. No organization is going to turn on a dime and change such ingrained cultural realities just for you. This is also NOT mentioned in any Employee Handbook because, like culture itself, it can be hard to discern. Learn about what works and adapt for success. Talk about it!

Ask yourself:

  • What influence channel has been most successful for me?
  • What are the top three influence channels in my organization?
  • What do I need to do to adapt?

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

* The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas; G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa, Penguin Books, 2007

Willy Steiner is the President of Executive Coaching Concepts, an executive leadership firm dedicated to assisting senior executives in taking their individual and organizational performance “TO THE NEXT LEVEL”. He has provided valuable counsel to executives and teams throughout his career with General Electric, RCA Corp., Galileo International and for hundreds of other clients in a wide variety of industries in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia. More of Willy’s thoughts on leadership can be found at his Coach’s Corner Blog.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers’ influence comes from how well your products serve their markets, and how your customers feel about/react to the products. As you build out great products that customers love, you ability to influence others—both inside and outside your company—will grow.

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One thought on “Six Channels of Influence: How to Navigate Them Effectively

  1. Hello Willy,

    This is a very elaborated article and a very good read. Authority is an interesting point:
    In most organisations authority goes a long with a position. To me this does not necessarily equal leadership since authority should be based on someone’s knowlege and skills and the ability to interest (number 5) people for your vision (number 3). I strongly believe in the power of interest. The things one is interested in most are the ones they learn the easiest. We like what we are interested in. We represent best what we like.

    I would be INTERESTED in knowing what other people think about so I could learn from it.

    Have a great day.
    Brigitte

    http://brigitte-kobi.com/blog

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