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What Leaders are Learning

Leaders Persuade

Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. Our adult Leadership Class just completed its monthly class, Communication Day, focusing on the servant leadership characteristic “Persuasion.” Robert Greenleaf, author of The Servant As Leader, suggests leaders should commit to persuading or convincing followers versus coercing them. In today’s increasingly polarized world, persuasion becomes harder and harder but the benefits of building a team of conviction strengthens immeasurably when followers are convinced to follow a course of action over being ordered to.
Persuasion is a powerful tool. A study in January of 1995 by Amanda Bennett in the Wall Street Journal found that persuasion in the marketplace is responsible for one quarter of our nation’s GDP. Today, with the power of social media, the impact may be far greater. Dale Carnegie famously said “There is only one way... to get anybody to do anything. And that is by making the other person want to do it.”
The famous book by Robert B. Cialdini entitled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion posits there are six means to persuade others: reciprocity, commitment, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. Reciprocity fits well into the servant leaders’ toolkit as it reminds us that as leaders to gain support from others we must be first able to do something similar in return. In other words, we must give to get. Similarly, commitment from our follower builds when we gain their trust and confidence. Servant leaders by their nature build commitment and liking which helps them when it becomes time to persuade.
Greenleaf’s iconic book The Servant As Leader gives a powerful example of how persuasion can change communities. He cites John Woolman, an American Quaker who lived during the eighteenth century. Woolman spent 30 years traveling from one Quaker farm to another raising questions about the morality of slavery. David Newman in his March 1991 Ministry article “Servant Leadership and Robert Greenleaf” summarizes the point well: “[Woolman] did not argue or storm about. He did not confront or censure the farmers. He simply asked such questions as What does the owning of slaves do to you as a moral person? and What kind of an institution are you leaving for your children? Because of his gentle persuasion, Quakers became the first religious group to forbid the holding of slaves by its members this some 100 years before the civil war. Greenleaf wonders what America would have been like if there had been 50, or even five, John Woolman’s presenting their gentle, nonjudgmental arguments. A few such people might have brought an end to slavery without the Civil War. Leadership by persuasion has the virtue of depending upon conviction rather than coercion.”
Leaders who are authentic and trusted and whose heart is motivated by a service to others follow in the footsteps of Woolman. The good news is most issues we face today do not have the gravity of slavery so our ability to persuade faces less pressure. Persuasion starts with reciprocity and commitment and ends with authority if need be. In between, servant leaders need to connect and slowly make the case. 2018 is soon upon us. My new year’s resolution will be to seek persuasion over coercion next year. It is a pathway to peaceful resolution and new beginnings—it is a noble endeavor. Leaders persuade for good reason!
The most important persuasion tool you have in your entire arsenal is your integrity. ~ Zig Ziglar