Leading Through Indirect Influence
Leading using indirect influence tactics can sometimes be far more effective than giving direct orders or instructions. These tactics may not be as straightforward regarding your aims, your means, or both. This does not necessarily make them wrong when they benefit the mission and those you lead. It does reemphasize that your leadership must be for the benefit of others, not yourself. Indirect influence can be more risky than any direct method of influence because your intent may be unclear and much less is under your control. Still, this risk is acceptable when other direct influence tactics are indesirable, ineffective, or unavailable.
The Indirection Influence Tactic
The indirection influence tactic is used when your authority is limited in the situation and those you want to lead will resist a more direct influence tactic.
I heard a story once about a woman who was poised on the suspension of a bridge, about to commit suicide. A policeman below talked to the woman and tried to logically persuade her to come down and failed. He tried to order her down. That didn’t work either. He tried negotiation and involvement. Nothing. Finally, he called up and said: "Lady you can jump if you want, but I sure wouldn’t want to jump into that dirty water. It’s full of sewage and garbage, and smells awful." She immediately hesitated, then climbed back down, and the police officer was able to use persuasion to get her to safety. That’s a good example of using the redirection tactic.
Children Use Indirection Very Effectively
Do you have children? You know that when they begin to be particularly nice, offer to do extra work, or tell you how well you look, watch out! You are about to be led by the indirection influence tactic.
Your children have no formal power in the family. As parents, the formal power is yours. But you are being led by the informal power of charm.
Do you know where you are being led? You may not know, but you soon will. Chances are your son wants to borrow the car, or your daughter wants to go out on a date in the middle of the week. Or, who knows what they may be concocting.
My 12-Year Old Son Gets a Computer without Asking
When our son was about twelve, he became very interested in computers. Neither my wife nor I owned one at that time, and they were expensive. Even a used Apple with laughable memory by today’s standards cost at least $1000. Our son talked about computers all the time. He got books and magazines and read about computers. He took a special course on computers given at summer school for older students. He wanted a computer . . . badly.
He started saving his money. But there isn’t a lot twelve-year-olds can do to earn money. Even the paper routes of my youth—my own way to cash—are generally no longer available. So, working every day after school, he started doing odd jobs from door to door. My wife and I calculated that at the rate he was going, it would take years for him to come up with the money. But he kept at it for several months, and continued eating, living, and breathing computers.
"Maybe we should just buy him one," suggested my wife. "No way," said I. "They cost too much money. He’ll earn enough eventually." Yeah, right.
One day, I walked into his room. Not only was everything in order, but several tables had been set against the wall with nothing on them. A straight back chair was placed before them.
"What’s this?" I said. Big mistake, that question. "It’s for my computer," Nimrod answered. I turned around and left the room immediately.
He had indirectly showed us that he was fully committed to getting a computer in a very effective, visual way, without words.
That afternoon, my wife and I got a "Recycler" newspaper that listed used items for sale. That evening, our son had his computer. Note, he had never asked for one. But, our 12 year old had led us where he wanted using the indirection influence tactic.
How to Influence through Enlistment
With the enlistment influence tactic, you just ask. It works in situations where you don’t have the power, or may have the power, but may not want to use it. Just asking works in more situations than you might think. Not too long ago, a social scientist looked at the motivation one person used in getting others to do things. He found that frequently the logic for persuading does not need to be perfect. The person doing the persuading only has to give a reason for wanting the action performed.
During one study, this scientist discovered that many people would allow someone to cut ahead of them in a line to make copies on an office copier only if a reason were given. Did the reason have to be compelling? Hardly. The person had only to say: "Can I go ahead of you because I have to make copies?"
I know this sounds crazy, but apparently the key was simply to give a reason, any reason. Just giving the reason was itself sufficiently persuasive. What the reason was wasn't particularly important. Just asking is frequently effective, and if you have a good reason for your request, so much the better.
Redirection is Tied in with Emotion and May Trump Logic
The leader using redirection doesn't want to reveal the real reason for the action he wants done. He wants to redirect those he leads because if he does not do this it will have a negative impact of one kind or another.
Let's say there are two organizations whose offices are located right next to each other. The members of these organizations are constantly bickering. The fact that they are located so close to one another allows increased opportunity for hostile contact. As a result, management decides to physically separate the organizations. Does the memo announcing their move state that they are being relocated due to their bickering? Of course not. The stated reason is probably "efficiency," or "better space utilization."
Redirection is also used when firing senior managers. Senior executives are rarely officially fired. Rather, they are given new assignments. We say that they are "kicked upstairs."
This is a perfectly legitimate tactic with many advantages. We preserve the feelings of the fired manager to the maximum degree that we can. We show others that people are important to us. We just don't throw people "under the bus" when they fail. Finally, an individual unsuitable for one job can do a superior job at a different time and at a different place.
How "Sam" Grant Used Redirection Influence on the Battlefield
Ulysses S. "Sam" Grant was the man that Lincoln finally found to beat Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. To beat Lee, Grant also used the tactic of redirection to influence his men.
At his first battle against Lee at the head of the Army of the Potomac, Lee won the day and Union forces retreated. As they retreated out of the Wilderness, the Union columns got only as far as the Chancellorsville House crossroad. There they encountered a squat, bearded general smoking a cigar and sitting on horseback. As the head of each regiment came abreast of him he took out his cigar and pointed to the right fork. That's where they went. They thought they were retreating, but the right fork led right back into battle against Lee's flank. That was redirection physically as well emotionally.
The Influence Tactic of Deflection
In using the deflection tactic, the leader gets someone to do something by disclaiming his or her own ability or power to do it. An analyst goes to his supervisor and asks for help in doing some problems. "Gee, I'd like to help," his supervisor says, "but I haven't worked with these types of problems in quite a long time. How would you approach them? Why don't you start out. Maybe I'll remember a little."
So the analyst begins to work the analysis. Whenever he gets stuck, his leader gets him going again. The supervisor used the deflection strategy to get the analyst to both learn the job and do the job at the same time.
When or When Not To Use These Four Indirect Influence Tactics
Of course there are other indirect influence tactics as well. Just remember that indirect tactics can be risky. They should only be used for the benefit of your people or your organization, never yourself. They are most suitable for situations where direct influence tactics either can't be used, won't work, or are less effective, or to make direct tactics more effective.
One influence tactic is not the best under all conditions. Any of these tactics may be the best depending on the many factors in any leadership situation. So in every case the heroic leader must consider all of his or her options and all factors in deciding which tactic or combination of tactics to use.