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Influence: Working Through Other People To Achieve Goals

by Phyllis Weiss Haserot

If power is measured by "power of the purse" authority, marketing, recruiting, professional development. human resources, information technology professionals , or associates and managers don't have much of it. Likewise, they lack the authority to vote at partner (or shareholder) meetings or implement their ideas without partner/owner approval. Often they are put in the most frustrating position: having responsibility without authority.


In truth, even many partners and shareholders as well as associates have quite limited power to accomplish many of their goals or see projects they initiate to fruition on their own. However, learning the techniques and using the tools of persuasion to work through the people in the organization that do have the necessary clout, they can expand their influence and succeed.

Margaret Williams, Chief of Staff to former President William Jefferson Clinton and former Assistant to President Clinton and Chief of Staff to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has had a front-row seat to observe power and who wields it, and to exercise it herself. Her definition of power is "the ability to convene people, the ability to protect people, and the ability to confer power to others." By that definition, partners, managers and senior staff in professional firms do have the potential to exercise power.

In professional service firms, given their minimum of hierarchical structure, influence must be derived from personal behavior rather than position or vested authority. Jay Lorch and Thomas Tooney, in their book "Aligning the Stars," (Harvard Business School Press), said that leaders in such firms must manage through persuasion and example. They can rarely impose their will through hierarchical decision-making.

Everyone has personal power - but it often takes some discovery to identify it and how to use it. Professionals think that what they know is the key, but how you read and approach people is even more important.

It's all about focusing on other people. The principles of persuasion are more people-oriented than task-oriented, so even those who naturally tend to be strongly task-oriented need to learn how to listen, observe and address the needs of people they want to influence and win over. The best foundation to do this is to know your personal style; and build on its strengths. There is no one best style.


Gaining influence is a continuing process to be used over and over again, even by people who do currently have clout. The process of influence and persuasion consists of six steps.

  • First, make sure the idea aligns with the firm vision, or if one has not been determined, at least the strategic goals.
  • Next gather the data to make the business case. This is especially important for addressing decision-makers who are data-oriented, rather than big picture types.
  • Then identify the decision-makers for the firm or the project and the contrarians. If you can win over the latter, you will have garnered very important support.
  • With the key players identified, network both for information that will help your case and for support. While support of people with clout in the firm is crucial, other people with less direct influence but who understand the dynamics and how to influence the decision-makers can be very helpful.
  • When you make your presentation - formal or informal - to the decision-makers, you need to make it in the style best received by the audience.
  • Then comes implementation of the project or idea.
  • Lastly, it is important to market the successes achieved through the idea or project. This is a form of "social proof," one of the principles of persuasion, which will help you to persuade the firm to support future ideas or projects.

Certain soft skills are usually critical to increasing influence and selling your ideas. Work on sharpening such skills as communicating clearly and frequently, listening actively and with positive intent, delegating appropriately and with clarity of purpose and expectations, and building relationships beyond your immediate working group. This may require broadening and deepening skills through seminars, conferences and tele-classes, finding a coach or mentor inside or outside of the firm, networking with people in similar positions, and taking an active role in professional organizations where you can use and practice these skills to accomplish organizational goals.

SELLING YOUR IDEAS requires psychology and interpersonal skills. Key factors are to:

Be a good lobbyist. Rather than face a roomful of decision-makers right off, talk to the influencers one-by one. people are much more persuadable one-on-one than in a group where they are concerned about what other people are thinking or have other issues to be discussed on their minds. Line up enough support before taking a decision to the whole group of decision-makers. And be sure to show appreciation and recognition for the supporters.

Identify motivations or emotional needs. Ultimately, people make decisions and take actions to satisfy emotional needs more than basing them on rational arguments. Always think "what's in it for them," what is the motivation when trying to persuade. Common emotional needs and motivations include: ego, fear, security, power, status, self improvement, profit or greed, the need to win, affiliation, and, of course, survival Think of a way to appeal to each type of personal need to gain support. For example, for ego- and status-driven people, let them take some of the credit, even though it's your idea.

Get buy-in. Success usually depends more on how you approach people than the merits of the initiative itself, though this fact is often hard for thinker-types to accept. Get help and guidance from well liked, highly credible and respected people in the firm who understand the barriers, inertia, and fears of their colleagues.

Focus on both the rational and emotional. Good chemistry makes the difference. You can "design" a state of rapport if you don't let your emotions get in the way and you keep foremost in mind what you want to achieve. People seek out those who help their growth and give rather than take. Effective persuasion, like sales, requires 1) trust, demonstrated through attitude, 2) logic - you need to make good sense, and 3) emotion, to touch and move people.

Four important aspects of how people view you are role modeling, ethics, etiquette, and appearance. The appearance part of "image" is a subject in itself. It is important to identify and get comfortable with your style and be sure it isn't too "over-the-top" to be taken seriously in your organizations' culture. It is also important in this context to feel you are not sacrificing your authenticity. One of the most important things to remember is to convey a consistent image so that people will not wonder who you really are.

People will care about, pay attention to and share in responsibility for what you are trying to achieve jointly the more they feel that you understand how they win in a situation and that you want them to win. Knowing your style and understanding the other people's styles is extremely helpful in creating those positive impressions and rapport.


One of the most useful things you can do to increase influence, manage and "sell" more effectively is identify people's personal behavioral styles and learn to read them in order to anticipate reactions and to better communicate with them in the manner that best gets their attention and builds rapport. You can work with the DiSC behavioral styles (Dominance or Directness, Influence, Steadiness or Supportiveness, and Conscientiousness) as well as Myers-Briggs type Indicator styles, Neuro-Linguistic Programming styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic), and others, but these are the best known. I prefer to use the DiSC styles for the simplicity of assessment, wide applicability and long proven track record, and will illustrate with them in this article. There are also conflict management or negotiation styles and team role preference styles. The most common ones are: Persuasion, Compelling, Avoid/Ignore/Accommodate, Collaboration, Bargaining or Negotiating, and Support. The more you learn about personal styles, the more effective tools you will have for influencing.

One of the DiSC dimensions of style is actually called "Influence" This is the style that most operates by achieving goals on the basis of working through and persuading other people.

Each of the four primary dimensions of style has attributes of influence. For example, the Influence (i) style pulls together groups of people and gets diverse people to cooperate. The Dominance (D) style initiates, energizes other people, and relishes challenges, so such a person persists until approval is won. The Supportiveness (S) style exerts influence by bringing the best out in people. The basis of the Conscientious (C) styles' influence is getting things done right (and people know they can rely on that).

There are assessment tools to identify an individual's personal style (including yours).Or one can be taught to people-read, observing such attributes as: pace, sociability, big picture vs. detail-oriented, and degree of adaptability to change.

Influence doesn't usually come overnight. Keep working at it. Using knowledge of personal styles and influence principles, your "luck" in achieving your goals and implementing your projects will soar.


© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2003.

A version of this article was published in Of Counsel, October, 2003. This article contains excerpts from Chapter 50 of THE RAINMAKING MACHINE by Phyllis Weiss Haserot (West Group), April, 2004.