Elements of Influence: A book review by Bob Morris

Elements of Influence: The Art of Getting Others to Follow Your Lead
Terry R. Bacon
AMACOM (2011)

“Despots coerce; managers control; leaders influence.”

First and foremost, Bacon insists that leaders must be authentic. Otherwise, they will be unable to attract followers because they lack credibility…the foundation of trust and respect. I agree with him that authentic leaders “do not seek to compel; they seek to inspire. They do not impose their will on others; rather, they live according to core beliefs and principles that attract others; they initiate change because they envision a better way, and others follow that path because they believe it is a better way.” These comments describe the power of influence.

Bacon identifies and discusses an additional ten “laws” of influence (Pages 20-32). Here are the first three:

1. Attempts to influence may fail for many legitimate reasons because it is “nonsense” to think that it is possible to influence anyone to do anything;

2. Influence is contextual: it most accommodate latitude (e.g. options), interests (i.e. of those to be influenced), and disposition (i.e. how receptive those to be influenced are); and

3. Influence is often a process rather than an event just as earning and sustaining respect and trust also involve a process and must be earned. Moreover, influence, respect, and trust can be lost in an instant.

Readers will appreciate Bacon’s research-driven approach (64,000 subjects and more than 300,000 respondents), one that focuses primarily on providing information, insights, and advice that explain the “how” and “why” of influence. In most chapters, reader-friendly devices are provided, notably “Key Concepts,” “Insights on…,” “Challenges for Leaders,” and italicized insertions (as on pages 3, 25, 72, 139). These will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review later of key concepts and techniques. Bacon also includes insightful discussions of bullies and bullying, intimidation, fraud (e.g. Bernard Madoff), threat defense, and manipulation as well as clusters of recommendations within these formats: “If you use W,” “When to use X,” “How to use Y efficiently,” and “Defending yourself against Z.” I also recommend checking out self-assessment on pages 177-185. In my opinion, Appendix A (all by itself) is worth far more than the cost of the book. In it, Bacon shares what he has learned about definitions of power sources, influence techniques, and influence skills.

The title of my review is taken from the book’s Preface. It reminds me of my favorite passage in Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

To repeat, Terry Bacon’s first objective is to help each reader to become and then remain worthy of others’ respect and trust. Only authentic people possess authentic power and only they can exert authentic influence. There really is both an art and a science to “getting others to follow” but everything begins with character.



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